Graduation Year

2016

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Government and International Affairs

Major Professor

Kelly P. Werder, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Michael S. Solomon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Steven Tauber, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter Funke, Ph.D.

Keywords

digital media, experiment, Millennials, political communication, public awarness, strategic communication

Abstract

The aim of this interdisciplinary research was to see whether American presidents can reach Millennials more effectively in the digital age while publicly advancing the legislative agenda of their administration. The rationale is that presidents need to gain public support to pressure Congress into passing their legislation; while doing that, they can capture the public’s interest in politics and educate civically the most inattentive audience. To accomplish the task, strategic messaging adequate to digital media is necessary. Millennials appear as having modest interest and knowledge of politics despite their intense presence on digital media. On the other hand, they represent a third of the electorate— also projected to become the most important economic contributors in society — thus constituting an audience that cannot be ignored. Because metaphors are credited with an important role in processing new information and in branding leadership, I propose a category of new metaphors, labeled High Definition (HD) Metaphors that have three characteristics: they concentrate the policy contained in the message, are novel, and are relevant to the targeted audience.

The most important claim is that HD metaphors catch the eye of the audience by increasing the message visibility; the corresponding hypothesis is (H1) Presidential messages containing High Definition Metaphors are more salient than their literal counterparts. Second, I argue that HD metaphors facilitate the understanding of the message as they have a contribution to the acquisition of new information; hence the second hypothesis: (H2) Presidential messages containing High Definition Metaphors produce more political knowledge. Last, I claim that metaphors can influence the audience, by producing more agreement with the message; this is reflected in the third hypothesis: (H3) Presidential messages containing High Definition Metaphors are more persuasive than their literal counterparts.

To test these claims I conducted an experiment with 251 students in a large American university in the southeast, in which two groups were exposed to written, fictitious metaphorical messages sourced by a fictitious president of the U.S. and two groups received the non metaphorical versions of the messages (literal counterparts). One pair of messages was constructed on a topic of high involvement and the other pair on a topic of low involvement, as determined at a previous date.

Statistical analysis indicated that HD Metaphors increase the visibility of the message especially for audiences less interested in the topic. This is a key finding because it suggests that presidents can capture the attention of Millennials who are in general apathetic to the political discourse. On the other hand, HD Metaphors did not produce more political knowledge or more persuasion, in this particular design.

The importance of this study is theoretical and practical. It advances a new concept, High Definition Metaphors that was empirically tested with the power of an experiment; future work can build on these findings by detecting other effects. This research also connects theoretical models and concepts from various disciplines, thus enriching the scholarly understanding of issues that are not satisfied within the boundaries of a single field. Most importantly, this research has applicability to practice by informing presidential communication in the digital era; additionally, it can enhance the external strategic communication of leadership in non- governmental and international organizations since HD Metaphors can be adapted to fit any audiences whose attention is desired.

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