Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

The future of political messaging in Republican primaries

The future of political messaging in Republican primaries
Getty Images

Katz is a visiting lecturer in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. Katz's research interest is the relationships between politics and media, specifically how political processes and movements shape the creation of media. Nathan is also a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Images used in political advertisements and campaign finance law impact campaign communications. With the creation of Super PACs, candidates have developed unofficial wings, where they can put more money into creating advertisements with less accountability. My research looks at advertisement content as a form of impression management-where candidates and Super PACs shape images that not only reflect their values, but also those of who they see as their potential voters. They too, engage in a shared impression management, helping to create what I call “performance types,” character archetypes that shape the different types of performances and impressions seen in political advertisements.


Political advertisements are also shaped by their sociological context. The social and political conditions of the world during any given election will influence the nature of political advertising both in terms of production and content. Therefore, the “performance types” are not simply a reflection of the values of candidates, but also a reflection of the symbols and ideas that they believe their voting base wishes to see. As a result, they can be seen as a reflection of an attempt to parse out how the party’s political values are characterized. With all of this in mind, I framed my research on “how impression management techniques in the 2012 Republican primary changed for the 2016 primary and outlined what can be expected in 2024.”

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

New Performances, New Threats

When focusing on the more pragmatic performances, candidates refocused the idea of getting “results” to being about polling rather than policymaking, aligning with other driving discourses in the 2016 primary. Additionally, both candidates and Super PACs ended up using much more footage from debates than stock footage in 2016, cutting down on ad cost and allowing for more cohesive messages. The cohesiveness and complementary nature of candidate and Super PAC advertisements also remained just as strong.

The radical differences, however, appear in the changing of performance types. Gone is “The Saint,” a character that focused far more on the notion of a moral purity of candidates. In its place is “The Warrior,” used by both candidates and Super PACs, further demonstrating the cohesiveness of messages from candidates and organizations they cannot legally coordinate with.

“The Warrior” is unique based on two characteristics. First, its willingness and eagerness to use violence and second, the violence is explicitly targeted toward non-U.S. citizens, and overwhelmingly those living abroad. During the 2016 elections both candidates and their Super PACs flaunted their desire to use violence within the Middle East and on undocumented citizens. In one ad Ted Cruz highlighted his opposition to the World Court’s stay of execution to an undocumented immigrant convicted of murder. Regularly, these advertisements included images of military invasions and missiles being fired into the air to show a willingness for strength, as well as a lack of concern for human rights, as Marco Rubio openly bragged about tossing people into Guantanamo Bay, known for its use of torture. This is something that was not present in 2012, demonstrating a result in the ideological shift of the Republican party in the four years between elections.

What makes this so unsettling is not just the violence, but what it is couched in. It is combined with messages associated with conservative ideals associated with the notion of “taking our country back” and a new trend in attacking fellow Republican candidates. Prior advertisements in past elections attacked fellow Republicans for working with democrats and being insufficient in terms of policies. The new attack ads now focused on their opponents being opposed to a conservative social order. Combined, what appears is apparent: a shift toward pro-fascist messaging with the Republican party. This was not something that came from Donald Trump (in fact for methodological purposes, there were no Trump advertisements in the analysis as he did not have a Super PAC during the primary) but from Republican candidates involved.

What is Next for a Fleeting Democracy

Moving into 2024, the shift in messaging will continue to be amplified. While "the Warrior” performance type focused on non-Americans, I anticipate it being used in relation to American citizens in 2024. Specifically left-leaning and liberal groups such as Black Lives Matter, Pro-Choice, and Trans-rights advocates being the inevitable targets. Additionally, since the completion of my study, we have seen warrior-oriented messaging in midterm advertisements, not targeted toward Democrats but towards Republicans. Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens released a primary advertisement about “RINO-hunting” where an armed SWAT-team invades a house to go after people who are not truly loyal to GOP positions. The ad ends with Greitens saying to "join the MAGA crew and get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn't expire until we save our country." While the ad was publicly condemned, the truth is that it fits nicely within the greater trend of GOP advertisements: a support for violence toward political opponents in the name of ideological purity, that will not cease any time soon.

Read More

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda and others on stage

Donald Sutherland (left), Paul Mooney, and Jane Fonda performing in an anti-Vietnam War FTA (Free The Army) show in the Philippines in 1971.

Stuart Lutz/Gado/Getty Images

This young GI met Donald Sutherland in a bygone era. RIP to an original.

Page is an American journalist, syndicated columnist and senior member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

News of Donald Sutherland's death at age 88 took me back to a day in 1971 when he was protesting the Vietnam War onstage with Jane Fonda and I was one of about 1,000 off-duty soldiers in their audience.

I hoped, in the spirit of John Lennon's anthem, to give peace a chance.

Keep ReadingShow less
Woman speaking at a microphone

Rep. Lucy McBath is the first lawmaker from Georgia to win a Democracy Awarrd.

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Surprise: Some great public servants are actually members of Congress

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

TheCongressional Management Foundation today announced the winners of the seventh annual Democracy Awards, CMF’s program recognizing non-legislative achievement and performance in congressional offices and by members of Congress. Two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, are recognized in four categories related to their work in Congress.

Americans usually only hear about Congress when something goes wrong. The Democracy Awards shines a light on Congress when it does something right. These members of Congress and their staff deserve recognition for their work to improve accountability in government, modernize their work environments and serve their constituents.

Keep ReadingShow less
Man climbing a set of exterior steps

The author, Miliyon Ethiopis, following a court’s decision to grant his asylum request on June 18.

U.S. immigration court ruling on statelessness could have wide impact

Ethiopis is a co-founder of United Stateless, a national organization led by stateless people.

I feel like I have been born again, after a U.S. immigration court made a remarkable ruling in my “statelessness” case in June. I hope that my case will have significant, broader implications for other stateless people in America.

Being stateless means no country will claim you as a citizen. We don't belong anywhere. Stateless people are military veterans. We are Harvard graduates. We are Holocaust survivors. There are millions of stateless people around the world, and 200,000 such people in the United States.

Keep ReadingShow less
two Black people wrapped in an American flag
Raul Ortin/Getty Images

July Fourth: A bittersweet reminder of a dream deferred

Juste is a researcher at the Movement Advancement Project and author of the reportFreedom Under Fire: The Far Right's Battle to Control America.”

“Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.”
— Langston Hughes, I Too

On the Fourth of July we celebrated many things: our nation’s independence, our democracy and the opportunity to gather with loved ones who, ideally, embrace us for who we are. Yet, this same nation does not always make room for us to live freely for who we are, who we love, what we look like and how we pray. And it is this dissonance that renders the Fourth of July’s celebration a bittersweet reminder of a dream deferred for many of us.

Keep ReadingShow less