Despite the fact that political debates are increasingly common at all levels of government, relatively little work investigates the content of non-presidential debates (and work on primary debates is even less common). This study breaks new ground by analyzing four non-presidential primary debates. Two Democratic gubernatorial debates, one Republican U.S. Senate debate, and one Republican U.S. House debate were content analyzed using the framework of the functional theory of political campaign discourse. Overall, these debates were mainly positive, with 71% acclaims, 22% attacks, and 7% defenses. The Democratic (and gubernatorial) debates had more attacks and defenses and fewer defenses than the Republican (congressional) debates. Overall, these campaign messages focused more on policy (60%) than character (40%). The Democratic (gubernatorial) debates emphasized policy even more (65% to 55%), and character less (35% to 45%), than the Republican (congressional) debates.
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Benoit, William L. and Goode, Jayne R.
"A Functional Analysis of Non-Presidential Primary Debates,"
Speaker & Gavel: Vol. 43
, Article 3.
Available at: https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/speaker-gavel/vol43/iss1/3