The debates are key events for presidential candidates to influence public support for their policies. This study examines the impact of rhetorical strategies during presidential debates on public perceptions of unpopular issue stances. Using generic criticism, I examined the first two 2012 debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and uncovered four rhetorical strategies used by the candidates: issue framing, appeals to authority, use of rebuttals, and appealing to liberal and conservative presumptions. I then tested an example of issue framing from each candidate to determine its effectiveness in persuading public opinion on unpopular issue stances. My results showed that Obama’s use of the strategy lowered the favorability of Romney’s proposed economic policies, while Romney’s use of it showed no significant relationship. Overall, the study provides a clearer picture of how politicians use rhetorical strategies during presidential debates in order to gain public support in areas where they are weak.


Van Doorn, Bas

Second Advisor

Boser, Beth


Communication Studies; Political Science


American Politics | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


Presidential debates, rhetoric, public opinion, issue stances

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis Exemplar



© Copyright 2014 Daniel J. Cohen