Since the U.S. presidential election of 1800, candidates have selected campaign songs to underscore their political platforms. The literature on politics and music suggests that in modern campaigns, the significance of music rests not in the song itself but in the artist behind the song and the image associated with that particular artist. This analysis sought to convey how the very process of selecting a campaign song is a profound rhetorical act, and that songs chosen even in modern elections have a specific meaning and purpose tied to the political contexts in which they are embedded. Using an adaptation of Sellnow and Sellnow's "Illusion of Life" rhetorical perspective, which analyzes whether the musical score and lyrics of a single song form a congruent or incongruent relationship, this study analyzed the official campaign songs for both Republican and Democratic candidates for the 1972-2016 elections. The adaptation provided the opportunity to examine the intersection of music, rhetoric and politics, and explore evolving patterns and trends in campaign music.The primary findings of this research indicated that both Republican and Democratic candidates have predominantly made use of congruity in their campaign songs, with that congruity only increasing over time — a surprising result considering congruity can often diminish listener appeal. The song analyses also indicated that in general, Republican candidates tend to utilize songs that are positive and patriotic in nature, while their Democratic opponents incorporate songs that offer a critique of the nation. Additionally, findings also revealed a transition that began taking place in the 1970s to hit full stride in the 21st century, as campaign songs shifted from being a direct endorsement of candidates to focusing on universal themes that could appeal to both sides of the political spectrum.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Communications



Date Submitted


Document Type





congruity, incongruity, virtual time, virtual experience, campaign song, rhetoric



Included in

Communication Commons