Running head: A Functional Analysis of the 2000 GOP Presidential Primary
Debate in Manchester, NH
A Functional Analysis of the 2000 GOP Presidential Primary Debate in
The GOP primary campaign in New Hampshire, the first in the nation, ended
sensationally on February 1, 2000. Arizona Senator John McCain, scored a
lopsided victory (49% vote) over Texas Governor George W. Bush (31%
vote),. Before the primary, national polls showed Bush, who had raised a
record amount of campaigning money, soaring above the GOP field. The
primary forced Gary Bauer out of the race and left four other candidates,
G. W. Bush, John McCain, Alan Keyes, and Steve Forbes, to continue the
fierce campaign. The New Hampshire primary dramatically changed the 2000
GOP presidential primary landscape in the wake of the pre-primary
campaigning (?) that had been dominated by G. W. Bush.
The GOP primary debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, on January 26, is an
important event that contributed to the primary's outcome. Five candidates,
Gary Bauer, G. W. Bush, John McCain, Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes(Orrin
Hatch dropped out after the Iowa caucus)-participated the debate. During
the debate, the five candidates presented their ideals, their policy
stands, and their rhetorical techniques to the audience. Studies show that
the primary campaigning messages become important vehicles for
distinguishing between candidates, and that these factors have a vital
importance to the survival of the candidates (Benoit, 1998, p.6). In recent
presidential campaigns, debates among the presidential candidates have
become a "standard part" of the presidential campaign (Kendall, 2000). More
and more political analysts rely on presidential primary debates as
important information sources (Davis, 1997). Voters primarily rely on the
campaign messages when they decide which candidate is more preferable
(Benoit, 1998, p.8). Therefore, it is important to make a content analysis
of the presidential primary debates from a political communication
This paper aims to make a functional analysis of the GOP debate in
Manchester in New Hampshire on January 26 with functional theory to examine
the strategies, messages and styles of presidential primary rhetoric used
by the GOP candidates.
Communication literature has become increasingly interested in the concept
of persuasion attack and defense, focusing particularly on the nature and
strategy of persuasive attack. Benoit and Dorries (1996) suggested that
when an actual or perceived wrong-doing of person occurs, human beings
"accuse, attack, berate, blame, censure, condemn, rail, rebuke, reproach,
or object to a person's behavior" (p.463). Interestingly, when human beings
want to make a better image of themselves, they attack others. Benoit
(1995) reasoned that "face, image, or reputation not only contributes to a
healthy self-image, but it also can create important favorable impressions
Persuasive attack and defense can be highlighted in the discourse of
presidential campaign debates. The feature of persuasive attack is well
associated with presidential debates because a presidential candidate wants
to make a comparatively good image of himself or herself rather than the
other candidate by attacking another candidate in public arena. The verbal
accounts made by each candidate clearly suggest attributes of perceived
Some scholars have suggested that presidential debates offer viewers the
chance to see the major candidates in a face-to-face confrontation
addressing the same topics (Benoit & Wells, 1996; Hellweg, Pfau, & Brydon,
1992). Jamieson (1987) explained that "As messages running an hour or
longer, debates offer a level of contact with candidates clearly unmatched
in spot ads and news segments" (p.28). Kraus (1988) also argued that
presidential debates "serve the majority of the electorate better than any
candidates' personality and their positions on the issues" (p.5).
According to Bystrom, Roper, Gobetz, Massey and Beall (1991), since the
first televised presidential debate in 1960, presidential debate research
has focused on three main areas: (1) the effects of decided versus
undecided voters; (2) the effects of viewer's perceptions on candidates'
issues and images; (3) the effects of preexisting candidate preferences and
party affiliation, especially concerning "who won" the debate in the war of
persuasive attack and defense.
Katz and Feldman (1962) presented that televised debates function to focus
the public's attention on the political campaign through the review of
studies of the 1960 debates between Kennedy and Nixon. Sears and Chaffee
(1976) wrote that "Debates seem to be much more attractive media events
than are the usual one-sided partisan communications in that they are
likely to draw much larger audiences." Although there are mixed results
about the effects of the televised presidential debates, the voters may
obtain the impression of the candidates prepared for the debates. Voters
may learn from about issues, personalities of each candidates or the party
they belong to (Sears & Chaffee, 1979).
Although the highlighted function of presidential debate in terms of
persuasive attack and defense, not much research has been done on
presidential primary debates. Best and Hubbard (2000) explored the role of
televised debates in the presidential nominating process. Benoit (1998)
conducted functional analysis of the primary debate messages and found that
the 1996 GOP primary debates relied heavily on acclaiming, frequently on
attacking, and occasionally on defending. Murphy (1992) found that debate
rhetoric is best analyzed in context rather than in a vacuum in his case
study of the 1968 California presidential primary debate between Robert
Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. Hickman (1984/85) analyzed the data collected
from viewers and non-viewers of a New Hampshire Democratic presidential
primary debate in 1984 and data gathered in the general election of the
same year. Lemert, Elliott, Nestvold and Rarick (1983) conducted a
panel-design field experiment to test whether viewing political debates
increases interest and knowledge of political campaigns. Kane (1987) and
Pfau (1984) discussed the format of the presidential primary debate.
Blankenship and Davis (1982) employed Kenneth Burke's scene-actor ratio to
analyze the transformation of actor to scene in the GOP 1980 primary
debates. Hellweg and Phillips (1981) analyzed the verbal and visual
features of the 1980 primary debates between Reagan and Bush in Houston.
They argued that primary debates provide the public an opportunity to
differentiate the contenders for a party's nominations as well as give
those running for the nomination mass media exposure. In this paper, the
2000 GOP Presidential Primary Debate in Manchester was analyzed in the
theoretical framework of functional analysis.
This paper employs functional theory that was developed by William Benoit
and Pam Benoit (Benoit, 1998) as a conceptual approach. Functional theory
holds that political campaign messages have three basic functions:
acclaiming (self-praise), attacking (downgrade opponents), and defending
(response to attacks). Each of these three functions may occur on policy,
which include past deeds, future plan and general goals, and character,
which include personal qualities, leadership ability and ideals
(principles, values). Benoit developed six research questions to guide the
functional theory applications (Benoit. 1998, p.48). They are as following:
1. How often do the candidates acclaim, attack and defense?
3. Do the candidates focus their messages more on policy or character?
4. How many utterances are devoted to the three subsets of policy
consideration and three subsets of character, respectively?
5. To what extent are messages targeted to the candidates and the parties,
6. How did candidates elaborate their utterances?
7. Who makes more utterances to the issues deemed to be most important by
These questions are threads and guidelines in applying function theory to
analyze the campaigning messages.
With functional theory and its approach, the utterances of the 2000
Manchester GOP primary debate are firstly fragmented into themes. Each
theme addressed a continuous idea about the candidates and their parties
(Benoit, 1998, p.49). We hereby use Forbes's answer as an example how the
utterances are fragmented into themes.
FORBES: I'm sure. When you ran for Governor in 1994, you criticized Ann
Richards for the fact that Texas had 13,000 more state employees than did
New York State. Since then, the gap is now 36,000. Texas has 36,000 more
employees than the state of New York does, state-level. Under your
leadership, spending has gone up 36 percent, almost twice the rate of the
Clinton-Gore administration. On your so-called tax cut, your own budget
director said that six out of 10 Texans did not get a tax cut in this last
round. And on education, you've dumbed down the standards to the point
where in Texas; your SAT ranking has gone from 40th in the nation to 46th
in the nation. What can you tell the people of New Hampshire and of America
that you won't do in Washington what you've done in Texas?
The themes of Forbes's utterances include such issues as employment,
spending, tax cut and education. Each of them addressed an inherent idea of
Forbes' critiques to Bush's past deeds and therefore is coded as different
Second, all of the themes are classified into acclaim (self-praise),
attacks (mud slinging), and defenses (responding attacks or assumed
attacks). For instance, when moderator Shaw asked Senator McCain
questions, the latter's answer best illustrate the three functions of
SHAW: Is not having served in the military a handicap?
MCCAIN: No, it's not a handicap -- it's not at all. But this is the first
administration with a president of the United States, and a secretary of
Defense, and a secretary of State that have never spent one minute wearing
the uniform of the armed services of the United States. And I promise you
that won't happen on my watch.
McCain begins by defending that he did not mean that failure to serve in
military was a handicap. Then he attacked politicians in the Clinton
administration for never wearing a military uniform. Finally he acclaimed
that this would not happen on his watch. In coding the text, some of the
responses of the candidates to the moderator were identified as acclaiming
for their general goals. For example, when Moderator Brown asked the
candidates about their attitudes about the 15% poll requirement, Forbes
said, " I think it is grossly unfair to put that kind of power in the hands
of pollsters and elites….."; Bush: " I think it is fair….." ; Keyes: "I
think it is totally unfair…." These are defined as acclaiming because the
candidates were trying to clarify and emphasize their standings. One of the
ways to make themselves more preferable is to "produce discourse that
acclaim, or emphasizes, his or her desirable points" (Benoit, 1998, p.13).
Moreover, functions of some utterances have to be put in a larger context
to be identified. For example, when Keyes replied to Bauer's question, he
said, " I think you may have a misunderstanding of dignity." This appears
to be an attacking utterance, but if we put it in the context of Keyes'
denying discourse, we should define its function as defensive.
Additionally, some candidates assumed that there might be attacks to their
utterances they were making so they denied such possible attacks in
advance. We then define such utterances as defense. For example, when
McCain discussed about his standing toward the gap in IT development, he
said, "No, I wouldn't do it directly." We define this a defense.
Third, the targets of the three functions are identified. In the above
example, the target of McCain's attack was the Clinton administration and
the establishments in Washington.
Fourth, the themes are classified according to their policy and character
considerations. Policy considerations are classified into past deeds,
future plans and general goals. Character considerations are broken into
personal qualities, leadership abilities, and ideals. For example, Forbes
attacked Clinton's personal qualities (character: a liar), and his past
deeds (files issue) in the following utterances:
FORBES: This president has lied repeatedly, and I don't think it's going to
work to, say, try to get in a situation where he may not say something for
national security reasons, as Dwight Eisenhower did. But that is very
different from lying under oath, which this president did. That is a
felony, and he should have been removed for it. It's also very different
when he takes -- has the FBI send over 900 files on his political opponents
to his political operatives. That should have made removal from office.
Real crimes? Yes, absolutely.
Fifth, the acclaiming and attacking utterances of one of the candidates are
investigated to examine how the candidates elaborate their rhetoric. Benoit
developed the styles of acclaiming strategies in political discourse
(Benoit, 1988, p.33).
Insert Table 1 about here
Finally, in the coding procedure, the primary issues discussed key word
search is applied to the whole verbal content to examine who made the most
utterances to the issues deemed to be most important by voters.
In addition, the whole text of the debate was reorganized for word
searching to examine the primary domestic issues discussed by the
candidates. First, the utterances of the moderators were cut off because
they may also have mentioned these issues. Second, all of the utterances of
the same candidate were put together. Third, such key words as "abortion,"
"pro-life," "children", "tax," "education," "school," "student," health
care," "Medicare," "hospital," were used respectively to the reorganized
text of each of the candidate's utterances to examine their references to
In the above coding frames, two trained coders independently analyzed all
the news stories for each case. Their results were compared for
intercoder reliability using a technique which takes chance agreement
between coders into consideration. An 95 percent agreement between coders
was achieved, with initial agreement at 75 percent. Initial disagreements
between coders were reconciled in meetings of the coders. Simple percent
agreement was computed given the categorical coding and high agreement in
the second pretest stage. Agreement was reached through recounts.
Functions of the Debate
We found that every presidential candidate used acclaims, attacks, and
defenses in the debate. Both Governor George W. Bush and Senator John
McCain used more acclaims (58% and 45%, respectively) than attacks (19% and
34%, respectively) or defenses (23% and 21%, respectively). What is
intriguing is that Bush engaged in defenses less than in acclaims but more
than in attacks. The other three candidates, Bauer, Forbes, and Keyes
devoted more of their utterances to attacks (Bauer 51%, Forbes 46%, Keyes
43%, respectively) than to acclaims (Bauer 46%, Forbes 28% and Keyes 32%,
respectively), and more to acclaims than to defenses (Bauer 3%, Forbes 11%,
Keyes 25%). McCain and Bush, respectively, used the largest and the second
largest amount of acclaims. Bauer engaged in the largest amount of attacks
(51%). Forbes (46%) closely followed him. McCain used the largest of amount
of defenses (21%), which is less than his acclaims. (See Table 4.1)
Insert Table 2 about here
Attacks and the Targets
Although every candidate attacked many times, and three of them, Bauer
(51%), Forbes (46%), and Keyes (43%), even attacked more than they
acclaimed, a high percentage (45%) of these attacks were actually poured to
Clinton and his administration (See Table 4. 2). After all, this is an
intra-party race, and the candidates at least have a common goal---to take
the government back to the hands of GOP. Utterances such as "Unfortunately
this administration has conducted a feckless photo-op foreign policy."
(McCain) "The administration kind of love to dangle Medicare reform."(Bush)
"This administration has taken a passive approach the corruptive
president."(Forbes) can be frequently found in the debate. This is
consistent with the finding through word-searching that the word "Clinton"
(24 times), "Washington" (13 times), and "government" (26 times) appeared63
times in the whole debate, more often than the word "tax" appeared (52 times).
Besides Clinton and his administration, Bush received the second- largest
amount of attacks, followed by McCain and Forbes. Both Bush and McCain were
clear who their true rivals were----Bush poured half of his attacks (50%)
to McCain, while McCain threw the largest slice (43%) of his attack pie to
Bush. This shows that the two front-runners in the primary more tend to
attack each other, because this is an intra-party life-or death race. In
Table 4.2, we can see that Bush received 23% of the total attacks, higher
than any other candidates did. This explains why Table 4.1 shows that he
engaged in defenses more than attacks----it is natural the more attacks he
received, the more defenses he had to make (Bernoit & Wells, 1996). We also
found Bauer attacked everybody, and what is interesting is that his main
attacking target was Forbes, instead of Bush and McCain. This stance was
consistent with his lowest position in the poll ladder in NH---his attacks
were supposed to be the last-gasp effort to establish his electability
(Blankenship et al, 1983). We may assume that he attacked Bush and McCain
fewer times because he hoped to be appointed to a position in the
administration of one of the two front-runners. This is also consistent
with the fact that in the latter stages of the campaign, Bauer actually
joined McCain's campaigning team. Forbes cast 33.3% of his attacks to Bush,
and did not attack McCain. Keyes attacked McCain (26%) more than Bush, and
even cited very poignant questions such as "what would you say if your
daughter was ever in a position where she might need an abortion".
Correspondingly, he placed second to Bush as the attack target of McCain.
The distribution of attacks to the establishment, democratic part and GOP
were respectively 4, 3, and 4. McCain attacked the establishment 2 times.
For example, he said, "Because there's an iron triangle in Washington DC,
my friends, that have deprived you of your representation. It's big money
and lobbyists and legislation that deprive you of your representation."
Insert Table 3 about here
Policy vs. Character
In addition, we found that the candidates focus their messages much more on
policy considerations than on character considerations (See Table 4.3).
Forbes and Bauer respectively devoted as high as 91% and 90% of their
utterances to discuss policy issues.Bush and Keyes, respectively, devoted
88% and 87%. McCain was the least but approximate others. Character
considerations were only a small fraction of the debate utterances, but
quite a few of them were directed at Clinton and Gore. For example, every
candidate condemned Clinton as a liar or questioned Clinton and Gore's
leadership. For example, Forbes said, "This president has lied repeatedly."
Keyes said that Clinton was a "corruptive president", therefore
belittling Clinton's personal qualities.
Insert Table 4 about here
Bush acclaimed himself most (See Table 4.4). He acclaimed his past deeds
most (14). His acclaims were largely about his achievements as a state
governor. For example, he acclaimed that "Education has been a top priority
of mine, and I've laid out a comprehensive plan to reform our schools," and
that "our SAT scores have improved since I've been the governor."
In contrast, the other candidates, particularly Forbes, a businessman, and
Keyes, an ambassador, both lacked substantial governmental experiences and
could only discuss future plans and general goals rather thanacclaim their
past deeds. Bauer acclaimed his future plan 14 times and general goals 8
times, respectively. McCain made the most statements about general goals
(14). His acclaims (5) of past deeds were second to Bush but more than
the other candidates. This is relevant to his service in the military and
as a senator. Every candidate, except Bush, attacked other candidates' past
deeds more than they acclaimed their own past deeds. Bauer attacked 20
times, Forbes 24 times, Keyes 10 times, and McCain 13 times. They acclaimed
their future plans (55) and general goals (50) more often than they
attacked those of other candidates (36, 3, respectively). They acclaimed
their leadership (6) and ideals (8) more than their personal qualities (1),
and attack others' leadership (7) and ideals (6) more than their personal
characters (4) (See Table 4.4).
Insert Table 5 about here
Strategies for Acclaiming and Attacking
All of the five candidates used different strategies to elaborate their
acclaiming and attacks. The most-oftenused strategies were to stress effect
(27) and extent (19). Bush stressed effect (13) and extent (7) most in
acclaiming. For example, he said, "I want to lift the 15 percent tax
bracket up to couples making $70,000 a year. I think we can do it." He thus
stressed both effect (15 %) and effects to the target audiences (couples
making $70,000 a year). Bauer primarily stressed the extent strategy.
McCain used more extent (6) and effect (5) strategies for attacking than
for acclaiming (4 for both). In attacking the Clinton administration, he
said, "I think it's an absolute disgrace that there's 10,000, 12,000 proud
brave young enlisted families that are on food stamps in the military." He
therefore stressed both extent (10,000, 12,000) and effect (an absolute
disgrace" in his attacking. Inconsistency strategies were most used in
attacking. For example, Bauer attacked Keyes with this strategy, "You said
that one of the most important thing is the dignity of the presidency……but
nobody made you jump in the mosh pit….Do you think that's consistent with
the dignity of the presidency?" Keyes used strategies of inconsistency when
attacking McCain by saying that McCain had a "flip-flop" in his abortion
views. Forbes also used this strategy to attack Bush. For example, he said,
"When you ran for Governor in 1994, you criticized Ann Richards for the
fact that Texas had 13,000 more state employees than did New York State.
Since then, the gap is now 36,000. Texas has 36,000 more employees than the
state of New York does, state-level." Persistency and vulnerability were
used fewer times than other strategies.
Insert Table 6 about here
Important domestic issues
During the coding procedure, taxes, education, abortion, and health care
were found to be the maindomestic topics of debate . The other minor topics
included foreign affairs, the budget, morality, and technology. The word
searching results are shown in Table 7. As we see, Bush (11) and Keyes made
the most references to tax (11), followed by McCain and Forbes (8). Bauer
made the most references to Medicare (10), followed by Keyes (10) and Bush
(6). Bush made the most references to education (19), followed by McCain
(12). We can find that on the whole, education was the most referred topic
in the debate. Other topics include taxes, Medicare, and abortion. An
interesting outcome is that Bauer and Forbes were the two who made the most
references to foreign affairs, such as TWO issues, China policy, and Israel
issues. Both Bauer (17) and Forbes (12) made quite a few references to
China. It seems the two underdogs in the campaign devoted too many
utterances to foreign affairs when voters were not concerned about them .
Of course, each candidate placed different emphases on different issues.
The most- referred issue was not necessarily most important for the voters.
A candidate may just refer to an issue for attacking or defending purposes.
For example, Bush referred to "school," "education", and "score," primarily
because Forbes attacked him on education. But if we combine the
quantitative outcome with quantitative judgment, we can still reach a
comparatively correct conclusion.
Insert Table 7 about here
All of the five GOP presidential candidates in the debate engaged in
acclaiming, attacking and defending in their utterances. Two front-runners,
Bush and McCain, used more acclaims than attacks. This is reasonable, since
both Bush and McCain already led other candidates in the polls. They
preferred to use self-praise to make themselves more preferable than
others. Attacking, or mud slinging, is a double-edged weapon and has a
downside if not used cautiously Three of the underdogs, Bauer, Forbes, and
Keyes, used more attacks than acclaiming. On one hand, they tried to use
attacks as a last-gasp effort to build electability. On the other hand, a
great deal of their attacks were directed at Clinton and his government.
This shows that the debate was a intra-party race and the candidates still
had a sense of party affiliation and a common goal: to defeat the
Democratic Party. If this amount of attacks is put aside, we can find the
attacks between the candidates were less than acclaiming. Gorge W. Bush
defended more than he attacked, because he was the largest attack target of
other candidates. It is natural that the more a candidate is attacked, the
more he or she defends. But defending is not the best strategy in a debate,
because acclaiming and attacking produce more positive effects for the
candidates. More defending only makes a candidate seem to be passive or
innocent at the best. This is why defending was least used by most of the
Apart from the Clinton administration, every candidate had a main bull's
eye to target . Bush and McCain attacked each other more than the other
candidatesbecause they were clear that the other side was the true rival.
Every other underdog had one main target to attack. Bauer's first target
was Forbes. Bush and McCain were each other's first attacking target. Bush
was at the same time the main attacking target of Keyes. None of them
erected several targets at the same time, except for Bauer, who attacked
everybody. This indicates that all of the candidates were avoiding to
making several enemies at the same time. Otherwise the backlash would be
too strong to ward off.
It is found that policy considerations were much more important than
character considerations in the debates. All of the candidates devoted at
least 84% of his utterances to discussing issues instead of images. Because
he had significant political experience, Bush acclaimed his past deeds
more often than he proposed his future plan and general goals. Those
without or with less governing experiences, like Bauer, Forbes, and Keyes,
were more likely to acclaim their future plans and general goals. Granted,
Bush and McCain, the two front-runners, often acclaimed their future plans
and general goals. Every candidate, except Bush, attacked other candidates'
past deeds more than they acclaimed their own past deeds. The candidates
were more likely to acclaim their leadership and ideals than their personal
qualities. They attacked other candidates' leadership and ideals more than
their personal characters. Moreover, acclaims were devoted to the
candidates themselves instead of their parties. This is because stressing
party affiliation is not important in an intra-party race.
The candidates liked to elaborate their utterances with effect strategy and
extent strategy. This is because the candidates acclaimed most often. They
acclaimed their past deeds, future plans, and general goals. These elements
would achieve better effect if they are enlarged and broadened width and
depth. Otherwise they would sound to be simply empty slogans. Moreover, the
candidates liked to find the inconsistencies of other candidates and make a
good attack. This indicates that in a debate, which is by nature an oral
fight, one of the most effective and easiest ways to attack the opponents
is to find their inconsistencies between their past utterances and deeds
and those during the campaign. The issues the candidates addressed
primarily included education, tax, healthcare, and abortion. There are
ranked as education (1), Medicare (2), and abortion (3).
In summary, the GOP candidates took different strategies and styles in
delivering their messages. The two front-runners used more acclaiming than
attacking. G. W. Bush, who was attacked most, devoted more utterances to
defending than attacking. Senator McCain used more attacking than
defending. Bauer, Forbes, and Keys, used more attacking than acclaiming,
and more acclaiming than defending. All of the candidates directedmany of
their attacks at Clinton and his administration. If this amount of attacks
is put aside, most of the candidates used more acclaiming than attacking,
and more attacking than defending. The two front-runners, George W. Bush
and John McCain, attacked each other the most. The other candidates
selected their own attacking target. The candidates debated more on policy
than on characters. The main topics they referred to include education,
medical care, tax, and abortion. The candidates were more likely to use
effect and extent strategies to elaborate their acclaiming and attacking.
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Table 1: Strategies for acclaiming and attacking
Strategies for Acclaiming
Strategies for Attack
Increasing Negative Perceptions of the Act
Extent of Benefits
Extent of the Damage
Effects on Audience
Persistence of Negative Effects
Recency of Harms
Obligation to Protect Certain Groups
Effects on Audience _
_ The strategies for attacking developed by Benoit & Wells also include:
Intended to achieve outcome, Planned the act, accused committed offensive
act before, Accused benefited from offensive act. In order to examine the
strategies for acclaiming altogether with strategies for acclaiming, this
paper made adaptations and selects extent, effect, consistency, persist and
vulnerable as five strategies for acclaiming and attacking.
Table 2: Functions of the GOP Manchester primary Debate
Table 3: Target of Attacks
Clinton & Gov.
Total AKs Received
Table 4: Policy vs. Character
Table 5: Forms of Policy and Character
Table 6: Elaborating strategy
Table 7: Important domestic issues