A Textual Analysis of Barack Obama’s Campaign Discourse Regarding His Race

A Textual Analysis of Barack Obama’s Campaign Discourse Regarding His Race

Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana
April 2011
44 pages

Andrea Dawn Andrews

This study is a textual analysis of Barack Obama’s nine most noteworthy speeches from 2004 to 2009 during his rise to prominence and presidential campaign. Because Obama was considered an inspiring speaker and because he was the first African American to win either a major party’s presidential nomination or a general presidential election, this study examines how Obama’s use of language about his race may have contributed to his success. Previous research has shown that use of six rhetorical devices resonates with the American people: abstraction, democratic speech conversational speech, valence messages, conciliatory messages and imagery. The study analyzed Obama’s speeches for use of these devices in relation to his race. In the nine speeches studied, Obama addressed his race twenty-nine times and used all six rhetorical devices frequently when doing so. Recurring themes he discussed using these devices were the American dream, heritage and family, and unity. His overarching message about his race was that racial differences and a negative history of race relations could be overcome because the U.S. is a land of possibility, and he offered himself as proof of that idea. Previous research shows that the rhetorical devices Obama used to present this message about his race are those that would have helped him connect with his audience and appeal to the public. Thus, Obama’s use of rhetorical devices and presentation of a positive message about his race may have helped him win votes to become the first African American president of the United States.

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