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The Divide & Conquer Election of 2012


Dianne G. Bystrom, Mary C. Banwart and Mitchell S. McKinney

alieNATION presents research conducted by a national election team and leading scholars in political communication that explores a range of important topics and variables affecting voter attitudes and behavior in the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
In exploring the messages, issues, and voters of the 2012 election, these studies employ multiple methods including experimental design, content analysis, rhetorical criticism, and survey research. Whereas other election research tends to investigate either the content or effects of campaign communication, the more comprehensive and systematic nature of this collection enables alieNATION to cohere thematically around considerations of voter alienation, political engagement, political efficacy, and ultimately, citizens’ voting decisions.
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Chapter Sixteen: Working Together at Arm’s Length: Bipartisan Rhetoric in the 2012 Presidential Campaign


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Voters have become increasingly frustrated with the apparent inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together. Since the 2008 election voters have blamed this lack of cooperation for a perceived stagnation in legislative and executive action. The Pew Center’s 2012 American Values Survey (“Partisan Polarization,” 2012) found an 18-percentage point difference between Democrat and Republican perceptions of major issues that contributed to a lack of cooperation between the parties. As Jensen, Kaplan, Naidu, and Wilse-Samson (2012) demonstrated, this divergence played out rhetorically as bipartisan agreements in presidential and congressional speech became increasingly rare (p. 42). Legislation slowly ground to a halt as each party blamed the other for stoppages.

Eventually voters grew weary of the blame game and turned their ire on Congress as a whole. Some polls registered as high as 89% of voters voicing an intense distrust and disapproval of the Senate and House (Carpathios, 2012, para. 1). As the 2012 presidential election neared, voters became pessimistic that their concerns would be overwhelmed by partisan obstructionism (McNeil, 2012, para. 4). Morris (2012) summed up voter frustration succinctly: “voters just want the war to end and the parties to come to an agreement” (para. 2). This made bipartisanship the “key national goal of American voters” and a crucial deciding factor for much-sought-after undecided and independent voters (Morris, 2012, para. 3).

← 296 | 297 → Sensing voters’ dissatisfaction with the dissonance between the parties, both candidates in the...

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