Through a content analysis, the proposed thesis examines instances of social and verbal aggression within the 2016 US presidential primary and general election debates. Previous studies regarding social aggression have shown that its primary use has been to "œget ahead" in competitive and hostile environments. While acts of social and verbal aggression have been analyzed in interpersonal behavior and mediated entertainment scholarship, it has yet to be examined in the political spectrum, where candidates engage in clash to suppress their opponents. The current study argues that analyzing social and verbal aggression in televised political debates will help broaden the concept of political clash and provide foundational material to the study of this behavioral and rhetorical trend in American political communication. Additionally, examining social aggression at the political stage will encourage further research examining voters' attitudes towards similar political discourse and the cognitive effects that social aggression has on audiences.Sampling two debates from each primary debate segment (Republican and Democratic) and general election debates, the study was able to compare results across debate segments, as well as longitudinally within debate segments. The analysis found that aggression increased longitudinally. Although the Republican primary debates featured more aggression than the Democratic debates, forms of social and verbal aggression were very similar between the two. As was expected, the general election debates included more aggression than the two primary debate segments combined. Donald Trump was the greatest perpetrator of aggression among all primary and general election candidates.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Communications



Date Submitted


Document Type





social aggression, verbal aggression, political clash, 2016 US presidential elections



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Communication Commons