“Let Me Tell You...”: Audience Engagement Strategies in the Campaign Speeches of Trump, Clinton, and Sanders

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Throughout the 2016 campaign, presidential candidate Donald Trump surprised observers with his ability to maintain his popularity in the face of unorthodox and often offensive statements. Trump likely bolstered his electoral chances by appealing to a large segment of voters with whom other candidates failed to align themselves. To quote one news anchor, “People tried to attack Trump; it just didn’t work - voters liked him anyway”. As previous work by Miller (2002; 2004) has shown, systemic functional linguistic (SFL) analysis (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004) can illuminate particular strategies politicians employ to strengthen their arguments and exhort their audiences to join their efforts. In this paper, we employ the SFL-based Engagement framework (White, 2003; Martin & White, 2005) to examine ways in which the 2016 presidential candidates aligned themselves with their audiences. Our analysis of the speeches of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders reveals markedly different patterns of interaction with the voters in terms of ways expansive and contractive dialogic strategies are used, an intended audience is identified and thematized, and shared assumptions are made. While Trump makes his arguments in a highly constrained dialogic space, taking the agreement with the audience for granted, his opponents often employ a mix of contractive and expansive argumentative strategies and make more explicit overtures to the audiences whose perspectives they share. This study offers insights as to how each candidate identifies and addresses his or her ideological sympathizers or opponents and exhorts the former to intensify their support.

About the authors

Justin Quam

Georgetown University

Email: jq89@georgetown.edu
37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057, USA

Mariana Ryshina-Pankova

Georgetown University

Email: ryshinam@georgetown.edu
37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057, USA


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Copyright (c) 2016 Куам Д., Рышина-Панькова М.

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