Strategic Use of Language in White House Twitter Communications

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Jolet, Margo L
White House; President Obama; Obama; Affordable Care Act; PPACA; ACA; executive communication; Twitter; linguistic reappropriation; White House communication
thesis / dissertation description
Lippmann (1922) theorized that we understand our world through elites and the media because we cannot experience everything ourselves. We look to others to share their experiences with us. In this way, the media and elites tell us what is important in our world. Converse (1964), Zaller (1992), and Lupia (1994) argue that not only do elites and the media help us see what is important, but they draw out attributes of these issues to help us make political determinations congruent with our belief systems. In this thesis, I conduced two studies investigating candidate, party, and White House tweets about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). First, I used a quantitative content analysis to understand how in-parties, out-parties and politicians communicated about the PPACA. I studied tweets from 2009, when the bill was in Congress; in 2012, during an election year; and in 2015, at the start of another election cycle. I observed that elites and media used the term “Obamacare” with affective cues to communicate about the PPACA. The Democrats used positive tone when talking about the law, while the Republicans used negative tone and oppositional language. I also noted that Democrats linguistically reappropriated “Obamacare” to imbue it with positive cues for their base. Next, I conducted to qualitative textual analysis to investigate how the White House communicated about the healthcare policy priority. I began with emergent open coding of 10% of the sample and used this to develop a quantitative code book to analyze the remaining 90%. I developed a tactical category architecture with six categories of provision of information and seven categories of propagandistic techniques. I was able to show that widely used techniques in strategic communication are effective in setting the agenda for the public. Parties, candidates, and the White House communicate what issues are salient and help us toward value judgments of those issues in line with our ideologies. Twitter changes how tacticians practice. The brevity of tweets requires strategic use of language to build the agenda and a savvy press to interpret those cues as they share the agenda with the public.