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Title: A Vote for Me is a Vote for America: Patriotic Appeals in Presidential Elections
Authors: Haines, Pavielle
Advisors: Gilens, Martin
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: Campaign
Subjects: Political science
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: From H.W. Bush’s 1988 exaltation of the American flag to Donald Trump’s 2016 promise to “make America great again,” patriotic appeals have become a central rhetorical feature of contemporary American presidential campaigns. Despite intense scholarly debate over the meaning and normative value of patriotism, no systematic study of its role in electoral politics has been undertaken. This dissertation explores the usages and consequences of patriotic campaign rhetoric among white voters as an entrée to a deeper understanding of patriotism in the United States. Drawing on a content analysis of presidential campaign speeches, observational analyses from multiple elections, and a series of original survey experiments, this dissertation offers four key findings. First, presidential candidates presumably invoke patriotism because they believe it will accrue an electoral advantage — and it turns out this intuition is correct. Second, these effects are concentrated among whites with a strong sense of American identity. Patriotic appeals are electorally powerful because they bind candidates to the ideas, values, and norms that people associate with the heart and soul of America. However, they also feed into a larger dialogue about who counts as “truly American” — and who does not. This leads to my third finding, which is that when whites are exposed to Republican’s patriotic appeals, they express greater hostility toward African Americans, immigrants, and the poor. My final finding suggests that this is not a fixed or inevitable reality, but the result of historical and ongoing discursive processes. Over the last four decades, Republican candidates have rhetorically packaged patriotic appeals with discriminatory statements to promulgate a narrative of exclusionary patriotism. As a result, many whites treat “I love America” and “I hate American minorities” as interchangeable sentiments. Presidential campaigns represent critical moments when political elites and citizens are drawn into collective dialogue about the meaning of American identity and patriotism. Although prevailing patriotic campaign messages convey an electoral advantage to candidates and a psychological benefit to white voters, they exact a high cost on already disadvantaged minority groups. This implies that in its current form, American patriotism is largely incompatible with the values of a vibrant, liberal democracy.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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