Charismatic rhetoric relies heavily on the use of pathetical appeals, as the speaker attempts to nurture an emotional relationship with the audience. This form of rhetoric is common in political campaigns, a situation where the speaker must positively appeal to voters in order to succeed. Unsurprisingly, presidential candidates utilize aspects of charismatic rhetoric. In the race to become the leader of an entire nation, candidates work to instill confidence in their ability to lead and in their vision for the next four years. It is crucial that the candidate has the audience’s best interests at heart, which is often proven through the creation of a shared identity, within which are shared values and goals.
The success of rhetoric depends on different factors, such as who the speaker is and the audience being addressed. Unsurprisingly, different aspects of charismatic rhetoric are used in different situations. Analysis of the charismatic rhetoric used in the 2008 presidential campaign season showed differences between candidates’ rhetoric based on partisanship and the phase of the election. The use of certain charismatic constructs could be attributed to either Republican and Democratic candidates, and to the primary season and general election.
In general, Republican candidates were much more likely to appeal to follower’s worth and values, while Democrats called on collective focus and temporal orientation. Both parties employed the agentic aspect as a similar rate, though Republican’s were more likely to use references to adversity and Democrats appealed to action. Overall, both parties relied most heavily on references to similarity to followers.
During the primary season, candidates were likely to use the constructs affiliated with their party. The shift to the general election was accompanied by the candidates decreasing the use of their party’s constructs, and increasing their use of the opposition’s. Both candidates also decreased their references to similarity to followers. During the general election, candidates must appeal to a larger constituency in order to win, whereas they are mostly focused on their party’s base demographic during the primary season. Both candidates also increased their use of the agentic aspect during the general election, specifically increasing their active language. As election day closes in, voters begin to focus on which candidate is more assertive and ready for the job rather than just their ideas.
It was very interesting to consider this data in relation to the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump was by-far the more charismatic candidate. He used strong references to adversity, action, similarity to followers, follower’s worth, collective focus, temporal orientation, and tangibility. It was rare for Trump to use inactive speech, while inactivity was very common for Hillary Clinton. While she employed charismatic constructs, she was unsuccessful at validating her similarity to followers, which was the dominant construct used by all candidates in 2008. Ultimately, it is Clinton’s inability to relate to voters and to create an emotional relationship with them that led to her loss.