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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

4 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 0.536

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Volume 15, Issue 2


The Rhetorical Psychology of Trumpism: Threat, Absolutism, and the Absolutist Threat

Morgan Marietta / Tyler Farley / Tyler Cote / Paul Murphy
Published Online: 2017-07-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2017-0019


Conventional wisdom suggests that Donald Trump’s rhetoric – aggressive, insulting, often offensive – would be counterproductive to electoral success. We argue that Trump’s surprising victories in both the primary and general campaigns were partly due to the positive effects of his appeals grounded in the intersection of threat and absolutism. The content of Trump’s rhetoric focused on threats to personal safety (terrorism), personal status (economic decline), and group status (immigration). The style of Trump’s rhetoric was absolutist, emphasizing non-negotiable boundaries and moral outrage at their violation. Previous research has shown perceived threat to motivate political participation and absolutist rhetoric to bolster impressions of positive character traits. Trump employed these two rhetorical psychologies simultaneously, melding threat and absolutism into the absolutist threat as an effective rhetorical strategy. Analysis of Trump’s debate language and Twitter rhetoric, as well as original data from political elites at the Republican National Convention and ordinary voters at rallies in New Hampshire confirm the unconventional efficacy of Trump’s rhetorical approach.


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About the article

Morgan Marietta

Morgan Marietta is Associate Professor of Political Science and author of The Politics of Sacred Rhetoric: Absolutist Appeals and Political Persuasion and A Citizen’s Guide to American Ideology: Conservatism and Liberalism in Contemporary Politics.

Tyler Farley

Tyler Farley is a senior in the Honors College, whose research on social facts at the Supreme Court has been published in the Journal of Law & Courts.

Tyler Cote

Tyler Cote are seniors in the Honors College.

Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy are seniors in the Honors College.

Published Online: 2017-07-29

Published in Print: 2017-07-26

Citation Information: The Forum, Volume 15, Issue 2, Pages 313–332, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2017-0019.

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