Divisive rhetoric and adverse language in Americal political discourse
Winans, Trevor Albert
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Although frequently cited by elected officials and those in the news media, divisive rhetoric has yet to find a place in political science literature. This paper fills the necessary gap in political communication research by investigating the existence of divisive rhetoric, its growth, and its implications. In order to construct a proper definition for divisive rhetoric, I look to three other forms of adverse political language: negative campaigning, polarization, and incivility. Already existing research on these concepts helped to craft a conceptual understanding for divisive rhetoric. Next, I look to investigate whether the use of divisive rhetoric has changed over time. To answer this question, I conducted a qualitative content analysis of every major party’s presidential nominee acceptance speech from 1960 to 2016. By using the established conceptual definitions as a guideline, I classified statements in the addresses as being negative, uncivil, polarizing, or divisive. Overall, there were very few instances of divisive rhetoric in the speeches analyzed and no conclusions could be made on the development of this language overtime. However, there is evidence of an overall increase in adverse language holistically among candidates.