Verbal Style and Vice-Presidential Debates: How Common is Partisan Rhetoric?

29 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 24 Sep 2009

Date Written: 2009


More than 73 million Americans watched the 2008 vice-presidential debate, making the encounter between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden the most watched campaign event in a generation. While previous studies have utilized functional and rhetorical frameworks for analyzing televised vice-presidential debates, examinations of these candidates’ patterns of language usage may also inform analyses of their content, purposes, and effects. This investigation uses DICTION software, which searches for 10,000 words, sorts them into 35 dictionary classifications, and calculates five master variables (Certainty, Optimism, Activity, Realism, and Commonality) to analyze the verbal style of all televised vice-presidential debate rhetoric from 1976 to 2008. Results show Democratic candidates use significantly more Commonality and terms indicating spatial awareness than Republican candidates; and challengers use more language from the denial dictionary than do incumbent party candidates. Far from counterfeit, these findings indicate televised vice-presidential debates perform Immediacy and Dialectical functions in general election campaigns.

Suggested Citation

Painter, David Lynn, Verbal Style and Vice-Presidential Debates: How Common is Partisan Rhetoric? (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

David Lynn Painter (Contact Author)

University of Florida ( email )

PO Box 117165, 201 Stuzin Hall
Gainesville, FL 32610-0496
United States

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