International Journal of Language & Linguistics

ISSN 2374-8850 (Print), 2374-8869 (Online) DOI: 10.30845/ijll

Shibboleth of Republican Primary Debates
Kevin Qualls, JD Tim Vance, Ph.D.

A 2012 CBS voter poll showed that a full fifty percent of primary voters identified themselves as evangelical, or born again Christians. It stands to reason that this segment of the GOP, and the electorate as a whole, would have a substantial influence on the outcome of elections. It is assumed that people vote within their own ideological bent, so often times political rhetoric revolves around the religious subtext of any political issue. Our goal with this study was to measure how the use of a religious subtext influenced the 2016 GOP debate season. The research question was simple and straightforward: did the use of God Words during a pre-primary debate result in a positive relationship with post-debate poll results? Content analysis of debate transcripts provided the means for counting of God Words used.Thus, this study examines the use of “God Words” in the Republican primary debates of 2015 and 2016. “God Words” are those words of religion included in the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count database. Operationalized in 2001 by Pennebaker, these terms (table 1) have been used by other scholars inquiring about the intersection of political and religious speech. These religious terms are one of many data sets included in LIWC. This study simply counted what words were used, and how often, by each of the Republican primary candidates in televised debates. Concurrent data were collected to compare favorability ratings just prior to and after each debate.Contrary to previous assumptions, results from our study show a significant inverse relationship between the use of God Words during the debate and follow-up approval polls. Our findings and discussion open the door to continued predictive research demonstrating the changing nature of the GOP primary voters and the electorate as a whole.

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