Print Proposal: The Founders in Modern Politics

For my print project, I want to analyze the speeches made by both the Republican and Democratic presidential potentials during the 2016 Presidential Election in order to see how often each candidate evoked the Founding Fathers in their speeches and examine how each candidate portrayed the supposed ideals of the Founders in their speech. I would be interested not just in the speeches of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but also Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bernies Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, in order to make a larger arguement about political affiliation and the representation of the Founders and the American Revolution in current politics.

Part of my inspiration for this project comes from Andrew Shocket and his book, Fighting over the Founders. Shocket analyzed the speeches made by Republican and Democratic politicians, especially during the 2008 Presidential Election between Barack Obama and John McCain. Shocket looked at the number of times the American Revolution was mentioned in speeches throughout presidential elections from the 1964 to the 2008 and also looked at the number of times the ideals of the Founders, such as the term “created equal,” was brought up throughout the various presidential elections. Shocket comes to the conclusion that Republicans are more likely to specifically mention certain Founders, whereas Democrats are more likely to evoke the ideals of the Founders in their speeches.

As part of my print project, I want to extend Shocket’s research to the most recent presidential election. I am interested to see if the trends that Shocket saw between Republican and Democratic politicians leading up to the 2008 election, still held true in 2016.  I am also interested in seeing if there are certain Founders that different politicians bring up more often than others, and determining if there is a correlation between the name dropping of certain Founders, like Jefferson and Washington, and political affiliation. I am also interested in examining how different politicians evoke the Founders and the American Revolution in order to further their own messages in modern politics. I think it would be interesting to analyze who of the Founders certain politicians choose to evoke more and why, and see if this is based on the individual beliefs of politicians, or if there is a political party correlation. I am also interested in seeing how the American Revolution and the Founders are represented in current politics across the political spectrum.

In order to complete this project, I would attempt to use Voyant Tools and search how often each Republican and Democratic candidate brought up the American Revolution or certain Founding Fathers. Hopefully, I would be able to see certain trends among various candidates and between political parties. I would also analyze the context in which the candidates brought up the Founders and the American Revolution. I would have to limit the number of individuals I would focus on, especially amonng the Republican potentials since there were so many in 2016.

This project is very much a work in progress, so any feedback would be helpful.


2 Replies to “Print Proposal: The Founders in Modern Politics”

  1. Overall this seems like a sound project. It’s great that you are looking at building on and extending the work from Fighting Over the Founders. If you were to go ahead and do this project, one of the first issues would be sourcing and building up a corpus of the speeches. With that noted, I don’t anticipate that would be particularly difficult.

    Voyant could well be a useful tool for doing this kind of research. With that noted, it may well be the case that if you have a limited number of speeches that you could very well do something more simple. That is, if you are working with something like 50-100 speeches, it might well be more straightforward to just identify the set of founders you wanted to find and then just go ahead and build a spreadsheet with the sentences that each founder appears in from each of the speeches. Then you could code them for any number of things you wanted to be able to speak to. This is just to say that less might be more here as it would be a lot more straightforward to work with the data if you built a simple spreadsheet way of working with it.

  2. I would second Dr. Owens’s observation that finding speech transcripts will be the challenge. has all the campaign announcement speeches, but that’s not much of a corpus. The wayback machine’s cache has some campaign sites, but other campaigns wipe theirs from the wayback machine. News organizations have some transcripts, too.
    Let me know if you have any general questions (not about the methodology; Dr. Owens knows far more than I), and how it turns out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *