Leading with Values: How Presidential Candidates Define and Refine American Values
Political values – individuals' enduring, abstract beliefs about desirable end-states for themselves and for society – affect not just how individuals live their lives, but how they make sense of politics. It is a straightforward matter for individuals to apply their values to their own lives: If Alice places traditionalism above all other values, while Bob ranks individualism above all others, each will make decisions about their lives very differently from the other, and both will behave differently than Charlie, who prizes egalitarianism above all other values. Research has also found that individuals' values relate to party identification, views of economic fairness, public policy, candidate choice, and other attitudes.
However, scholars have paid less attention to the ways in which political elites use the language of values. This omission is striking, given that elites deliberately frame political issues through the use of rhetoric, in order to advance their policy positions and win elections. This rhetoric often serves to link political questions to values and idealized and desirable social identities. Attention to elites' use of values rhetoric can thus inform broader questions of the role of values in shaping the dynamics of American politics. In my dissertation I analyze an original dataset – the campaign announcement speeches of American presidential candidates from 1976 through 2004 - to systematically explore for the first time the ways in which political elites employ the language of values. I do this by classifying candidates' statements according to a typology of values adapted from psychological work in this area, and this enables me to determine what relationship the political values in candidates' rhetoric has to such factors as partisanship, candidate characteristics, electoral context, and electoral success and failure. I then analyze how candidates conceptualize such values as freedom, equality, and security, among others, during the period in question.