Date of Award

12-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communications Media

First Advisor

Mary Beth Leidman

Second Advisor

Zachary Stiegler

Third Advisor

Jay Start

Abstract

This dissertation content-analyzed a sample of presidential debate transcripts from 1960-2012, to examine and measure the extent to which policy discussions and candidates’ stances during debates reflect the aspirations of posterity. A fundamental American socio-cultural frame asserts that people desire that succeeding generations live better lives than their forebears. Though researchers agree that present day decisions and policies will have perhaps greater consequences on posterity than even on present times, the analysis in this dissertation indicated apathy in engaging in long-term policy stances, because they appear to interfere with candidates’ short-term political interests.

As a consequence, even though the analysis indicated intensely negative sentiments in discussions of issues relating to posterity, candidates seemed oblivious of how their decisions could impact future lives and how future people will evaluate policies discussed and enacted today. Candidates seemed to make no conscious nor firm commitments to safeguarding posterity interests on the debate stage.

The analysis also revealed that thematic frames, such as the environment and education, identified to be of utmost importance in securing prosperity for posterity, only received marginal treatment within the sampled corpus and featured less in policy discussions. Thus, though the United States is ever marching forward to becoming “a fairer union,” the governing elite do not consciously extend that fairness to generations ahead in time.

This dissertation found that that there are few enduring commitments to long-term future policies in the policy arena today. Thus, future people could be imperiled as matters deemed crucial to their well-being are marginalized in public discourse. These findings should be particularly troubling to futurists, considering that the sampled debates span close to a half century of policy discussions. The findings also indicated that futurists must redouble their efforts and seek allies in high places in the political realm, if the socio-cultural frame of preparing for posterity is to become a reality.

The study outlined seminal communication concepts upheld through the research, especially as it contributes in furthering understanding of media effects and understanding presidential debates as a policy discussion forum. It discussed some limitations and suggested trajectories for future research.

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