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Political Tone: How Leaders Talk and Why (Chicago Studies in American Politics) [Kindle Edition]

Roderick P. Hart , Jay P. Childers , Colene J. Lind
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Solving problems with words is the essence of politics, and finding the right words for the moment can make or break a politician’s career. Yet very little has been said in political science about the elusive element of tone.

In Political Tone, Roderick P. Hart, Jay P. Childers, and Colene J. Lind analyze a range of texts—from speeches and debates to advertising and print and broadcast campaign coverage— using a sophisticated computer program, DICTION, that parses their content for semantic features like realism, commonality, and certainty, as well as references to religion, party, or patriotic terms. Beginning with a look at how societal forces like diversity and modernity manifest themselves as political tones in the contexts of particular leaders and events, the authors proceed to consider how individual leaders have used tone to convey their messages: How did Bill Clinton’s clever dexterity help him recover from the Monica Lewinsky scandal? How did Barack Obama draw on his experience as a talented community activist to overcome his inexperience as a national leader? And how does Sarah Palin’s wandering tone indicate that she trusts her listeners and is open to their ideas?

By focusing not on the substance of political arguments but on how they were phrased, Political Tone provides powerful and unexpected insights into American politics.

Editorial Reviews


Political Tone is a novel, masterly, and beautifully written examination of the American political landscape with attention to the campaign rhetoric of every presidential campaign from 1948 to the present. The authors have carefully marshaled a wealth of data to reveal patterns—some strikingly counterintuitive—in the political communication environment over the last six decades. A marvelous undertaking.”
(Katherine Cramer Walsh, University of Wisconsin–Madison)

“Fascinating and important, Political Tone offers a word-based journey through political time, space, and personality. It shows why tone belongs with framing and agenda-setting at the core of political communication research and why tone trumps word manipulation as a strategic tool. This book is a must-read for practitioners and students alike.”
(Thomas E. Patterson, Harvard University)

Political Tone is an original, engaging, and provocative exploration of a rhetorical element that belongs in the canon of every serious student of contemporary discourse.”
(Kathleen Hall Jamieson, University of Pennsylvania)

“Political tone is a concept that is central to the study of political communication, but we have applied this concept without a thorough appreciation of its nuanced complexity. Hart, Childers, and Lind have filled this void by authoring a richly descriptive analysis of political tone. Just as their book reveals the many complexities of political tone, it also raises numerous questions for future research to investigate. . . . An important addition to political communication scholarship, one that is not limited to a single approach but should appeal to scholars who study politics from a political science, rhetoric, or communications point of view. . . . It—and works like it—can inspire future research to blend the contributions of these diverse yet necessarily interrelated fields of politics even beyond the core set of compelling findings this volume offers.”
(Political Communication 2013-11-08)

“Hart, Childers, and Lind have analyzed approximately 30,000 texts from politicians, journalists, and citizens, focusing on discourse about presidents and presidential elections. An impressive and thought-provoking book that is a very pleasant read. Recommended.”
(Choice 2013-11-08)

"For a concept as ubiquitous as tone, there is surprisingly little research as it relates to politics. Political Tone fills that void, examining how politicians craft their rhetoric under a variety of different circumstances, why they pick the tone they do, and postulating about the effects of tone on public perceptions. . . . Political Tone makes an impact and will definitely be interesting to an academic audience. At the same time, it is generally accessible to undergraduates, journalists, and anyone who is interested in presidential rhetoric."
(Presidential Studies Quarterly 2014-02-03)

“A snappy new book exploring the value and importance of rhetorical tone. . . . Hart, Childers, and Lind deconstruct, and then reassemble, our collective picture of why we should care about what politicians say. . . . The findings from the book are vast and informative. . . . A welcome addition to the literature and especially valuable in explaining the tonal dimensionality of modern leadership.”
(Congress and the Presidency 2015-02-24)

About the Author

Roderick P. Hart holds the Allan Shivers Centennial Chair in Communication at the University of Texas at Austin and is the author or editor of a dozen books, including, most recently, Political Keywords. Jay P. Childers is assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. He is the author of The Evolving Citizen. Colene J. Lind is a PhD candidate in communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4310 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (May 14, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CN509KQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,056,259 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch Their Tone May 22, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Roderick Hart and his coauthors Jay Childers and Colene Lind describe their research using the DICTION software to examine political language. Hart and his colleagues have previously reported studies of election language in Campaign Talk. In this new book the authors examine "political tone." They operationalize tone as "...a tool people use (sometimes unwittingly) to create distinct social impressions via word choice."

Hart further defines tone as "...the product of individual word choices that cumulatively build up to produce patterned expectations telling an audience something important about the author's outlook on things." Human beings are not good at noticing language patterns. DICTION is designed to detect such patterns in collections of transcribed speeches, letters to the editor, political ads and other public documents. Documents are scored on the five dimensions of Certainty, Optimism, Activity, Realism, and Commonality. Each dimension contains subscales, enabling more fine-grained analysis. The first chapter overviews how DICTION works, preparing the reader to interpret scores that appear in subsequent chapters. The software's analysis method is similar to that of James Pennebaker's LIWC (See The Secret Life of Pronouns).

The authors' identify four distinct tones using the DICTION subscales. They describe each, the context in which it appears, and the broader societal and cultural forces with which it connects.
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