Political Behavior

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 97-118

First online:

Budget Rhetoric in Presidential Campaigns from 1952 to 2000

  • Barry C. BurdenAffiliated withDepartment of Government, Littauer Center, Harvard University
  • , Joseph Neal Rice SanbergAffiliated withThe Blackstone Group

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We offer a theory to identify the determinants of presidential campaign rhetoric related to the federal budget. The theory builds on the literature dealing with issue ownership, candidate strategy, retrospective voting, and voter preferences to generate eight hypotheses about the use of budget rhetoric. To test these hypotheses, over 800 campaign speeches from the major party presidential nominees from 1952 to 2000 are content analyzed. The content analysis generates measures of both the volume and tone of budget rhetoric. Volume is driven primarily by the objective balance of the budget and subjective importance given to it by voters and a conditional effect involving budget balance, incumbency, and partisanship. Tone is more complex, with “positive” rhetoric determined mostly by the budget balance and partisanship and “overstated” rhetoric shaped solely by the salience of the budget to the electorate. The article concludes with suggestions for future research.

presidential campaign budget rhetoric partisanship incumbency