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The Use of Imagery in the Campaign Speeches of Barack Hussein Obama and John McCain during the 2008 US Presidential Election.

McGuire, David; Garavan, Thomas N; Cunningham, James; Duffy, Greg


Thomas N Garavan

James Cunningham

Greg Duffy


Purpose – The use of imagery in leadership speeches is becoming increasingly important in shaping the beliefs and actions of followers. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the use of speech imagery and linguistic features employed during the 2008 US Presidential Election campaign.
Design/methodology/approach – The authors analysed a total of 264 speeches (160 speeches from Obama and 104 speeches from McCain) delivered throughout the 2008 US Presidential Election and identified 15 speech images used by the two candidates. Both descriptive coding and axial coding approaches were applied to the data and speech images common to both candidates were further subjected to Pennebaker et al. (2003) linguistic inquiry methodology.
Findings – The analysis revealed a number of important differences with Obama using inclusive language and nurturing communitarian values, whereas McCain focusing on personal actions and strict, conservative individualistic values. The use of more inclusive language by Obama was found to be significant in three of the five speech images common to both candidates.
Research limitations/implications – The research acknowledges the difficulty of measuring the effectiveness of speech images without taking into account wider factors such as tone of voice, facial expression and level of conviction. It also recognises the heavy use of speechwriters by presidential candidates whilst on the campaign trail, but argues that candidates still exert a strong influence through instructions to speechwriters and that speeches should reflect the candidate’s values and beliefs.
Originality/value – The research findings contribute to the emerging stream of leadership research that addresses language content issues surrounding and embedded in the leadership process.
The research argues that leaders’ speeches provide a fertile ground for conducting research and for examining the evolving relationship between leaders and followers.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 22, 2014
Publication Date Jun 6, 2016
Deposit Date Dec 2, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2016
Journal Leadership and Organization Development Journal
Print ISSN 0143-7739
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 37
Issue 4
Pages 430-449
Keywords Leadership; language; imagery; campaign speeches; Presidential campaign; content analysis;
Public URL
Contract Date Dec 2, 2015