Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Political Science


Political Science

First Advisor

Conor Dowling

Second Advisor

Elicia Lair

Third Advisor

Doug Rice

Relational Format



Theories of moral psychology suggest that American partisans rely on different moral domains to inform their political decision making (Haidt 2012; Lakoff 1996). This project addresses the use of moral framing, language, and traits in American political campaigns. It first examines the language of campaigns to ascertain if Democratic and Republican candidates use moral language in line with moral theories and then attempts to understand if using this language can affect the public in a meaningful way. Overall, the research suggests that campaigns frequently use moral language, though it does not strictly conform to the predictions of existing moral theory frameworks. However, the results suggest that effects of moral campaign messages are real. Specifically, candidates that increase their use of specific moral domains in their advertising increase their support in the polls. Similarly, survey experiment results suggest that Republicans and Democrats prefer candidates who emphasize different moral traits.



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