Semiotics of Political Campaigns
To determine character and ideologies one must fully examine how someone presents themselves. Looking into the presidential candidates for analysis of their character as well as their ideologies, I found that it would be best to look into the individual campaign ads found on their personal websites or personal YouTube channels. In looking at news sites suggested such as Fox, CNN, and Democracy Now, I found that it wasn’t so much information stated directly from the candidate but those who are producing news releases and stating opinions. This makes sense as they are news channels and some are conservative and progressive etc. With that being said I wanted to examine how the candidates present themselves and their character as well as their ideologies through the media they create.
The first campaign ad that I examined was Donald Trump’s. The imagery is what seems to be rather interesting in this particular ad. The typical presidential look was represented, this is signified by the blue suit, and white shirt and red tie with an American flag pin on his lapel. As trump waves to the crowds (the typical greeting) there are American flags lined up behind him. The shot then cuts to an African American Man who you see speaking the words, “I came to hear Donald Trump’s Business plan for America” but once the word ‘plan’ is spoken the shot cuts to Donald Trump speaking to a large crowd ( showing his large audience) and his arms are wide open while he is standing at the podium.
Having your arms wide open signifies an embrace. In this instance I believe it to show that he wants us to all come together and that he is welcoming everyone of any ethnicity to follow him and his ideas. By using this shot I think it shows that even though he has said outright that he wants to get rid of the illegal immigrants, “In a rambling, defiant speech delivered in this border state that has been the epicenter of the nation’s divisive battle over immigration reform, Trump declared: “These are people that shouldn’t be in our country. They flow in like water.” (Ref. 3) This is Donald Trump trying to change his character and ideology about immigration by showing these different ethnicities and open arms. Images that are seen throughout this campaign ad are of people wearing baseball hats, some supporting Trump others showing that they are veterans.
Baseball caps are a sign and they signify America because baseball is known as a great American sport and pastime. According to NPR, “Baseball, said Spalding, was fundamentally an American sport and began on American soil.”(Ref.4) These signifiers make sense to his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”
To keep this linear we will continue the pattern of analyzing Republican candidates we will look into the character and ideology of Ted Cruz. The imagery shown in Ted Cruz’s campaign ad began with pictures of a laughing Marco Rubio at the podium, the picture is in black and white, followed by a picture of a young Donald Trump and Hilary and Bill Clinton also in black and white. Due to the setup of the pictures and script together you are reminded of these photos as the words “Washington Deals, it’s why we have a 19 trillion dollar debt, some candidates have promised to cut more deals with the democrats others already have.”(Ref. 8) With an emphasis on “already have.” This is a clear attack at his opponents. Ted Cruz is represented rather close to how Donald Trump represented himself, wearing white and blue with the American flag pin on his lapel showing that he is in fact presidential. His main focus was to stop Washington deals, there were no pictures of children or people of various ethnicities shown in this ad instead you listened to Cruz discuss how he would change Washington. In this approach you don’t get a sense of Cruz’s character but you do understand his ideologies in terms of the spoken word.
Hilary Clinton is one of the democratic candidates in the 2016 Presidential election. Much like the other candidates her campaign also has a theme, hers it that she is fighting. We can all understand that if Hillary were to become President, she would be the first female President. So it would make sense to receive a feminist vibe from this campaign ad. Her imagery consists of mostly women and children in her ad. Although she does touch upon a few issues such as gay rights with the signs of two men kissing, proving her ideology to support gay rights as well as various religions. In terms of receiving a feminist vibe her ideology lies with supporting women as there are many signifiers such as a woman in a hard hat, a woman working on machine to cut wood, and then various pictures of young girls from babies up to preteens when the words “I’m going to fight until every little girl in America knows she can grow up to be anything she wants, even president of the United States!” (Ref.9)
If this doesn’t scream a feminist character and ideas with women in mind I don’t know what else would.
The final campaign ad I will be analyzing is the other democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. His ad was unlike everyone else’s. He had a theme and an audience but there was simply no script. The entire ad has Simon and Garfunkel’s song ‘America’ playing in the background throughout. The imagery supports a small town feel with farmers in mind.
There are multiple images of people working on farms, carrying hay, and there is the sound of a bell from the door opening to a small coffee shop. All of these images are signifiers for a small town. You can then make the claim that his character is that of a small town man who stands up for his people. His ideologies lie with the working class men and women and the small town farmers.
In conclusion each of these presidential candidates has proven to have their own character and different supporters which is determined by their ideologies. You can figure out the character of each of the candidates based on the semiotics represented in each of their campaign ads. This is their way of defining for the public who they are and what they believe in, as well as what kind of people they believe should be standing behind them in full support.
- Figure 1:
- Figure 2:
- Rucker, P., Costa, R. (July 11, 2015). Donald Trump: ‘We have to take back the heart of our country.’ Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-tells-supporters-we-need-to-take-back-the-heart-of-our-country/2015/07/11/066aecf2-27dd-11e5-b77f-eb13a215f593_story.html
- Thorn, J. (March 16, 2011). The ‘Secret History’ Of Baseball’s Earliest Days. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2011/03/16/134570236/the-secret-history-of-baseballs-earliest-days
- Figure 3:
- Figure 4: https://cdn1.lockerdome.com/uploads/0aa7f900a716c5175ad84952b6d70f0d403b248351023c013ef7c4ed6d415d62_large
- http://www.donaldjtrump.com/media/voters-speak-tv-spot ‘
- https://www.tedcruz.org/index.html (Stop ad)