Political campaign trail apologia: A case study of the 2004 presidential campaign

Kasie Mitchell Roberson, Purdue University


Political campaign communication can be studied from many different angles. Previous research in presidential campaign communication has revealed important insights into presidential debates, nominating conventions, campaign advertising, and campaign speeches. However, an important part of presidential campaigns has largely been ignored. Campaign trail speeches have not been widely studied. Furthermore, research on the use of apologia in campaign trail speeches has also been ignored. In this dissertation, I studied a sample of President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry's campaign trail speeches from July through October 2004 to gain a fuller understanding of the roles campaign trail speeches play in political campaign communication, to discover how presidential candidates attempt to maintain and restore their legitimacy through the use of apologia in campaign trail speeches, and to identify the similarities and differences between campaign trail defenses and traditional apologetic messages. The analysis of the campaign trail speeches examined how candidates' defended themselves on the campaign trail, expanding the definition of apologia to include the defense of candidates' opinions, positions, actions, character, and character-related policies. Two new apologetic postures, retortive and rebutive, were discovered in this study. The candidates used a retortive posture (bolstering and counterattack) to demonstrate that they were capable of being president by emphasizing their past records of accomplishment, while criticizing their opponent's past record. They used the rebutive posture (denial and counterattack) when they insinuated that charges against them were false and tried to shift negative attention away from them and onto their opponents. Three new apologetic strategies are also introduced in this study: strategic ambiguity, strategic silence, and reframing. This study also discovered a counteroffensive approach candidates use to defend themselves from attacks. Counteroffensive is designed to refute charges while appearing to be an offensive attack. Bush's speeches often avoided discussion of charges made against him by appearing to discuss his record as president. Senator Kerry used a counteroffensive approach in his speeches, but sometimes briefly mentioned charges Bush and others made against him in his speeches, lessening the intended effect of a counteroffensive approach by making the defense more obvious.




Stewart, Purdue University.

Subject Area


Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server