Connecting with Constituents: Identification Building and Blocking in Contemporary National Convention Addresses. By Tammy R. Vigil. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015. 435 pp.
During a 2016 presidential campaign rally in New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush found himself pleading with the crowd: "Please clap," hoping to force some connection with the audience (Martin, Jonathan, and Ashley Parker. "Bush, Iowa Also-Ran, Faces Burden to Show Appeal," New York Times, 14 February 2016, A16). However, Bush was never able to generate the type of identification he sought with American voters. Two weeks later, he dropped out of the race, leaving behind a useful lesson: creating meaningful bonds with voters is an increasingly essential aspect of securing votes amid diminishing levels of party identification and widespread cynicism concerning the effectiveness of government.
As candidates emerged and withdrew from the 2016 presidential race, media sources often cited candidates' connections with constituents as either the major deficiency (Cohn, 2016) or boon of their campaigns (Beinart, 2016; Keeler, 2016). Tammy R. Vigil's Connecting with Constituents explores such issues of identification, focusing specifically on national political party convention addresses. Accordingly, this book would benefit any course exploring presidential elections, political discourse, or even more general rhetoric classes.
Vigil's encyclopedic, "descriptive analysis" (p. 381) proceeds in six sections, explaining how "the identification-building efforts of candidates and surrogates" provide insight into presidential campaign rhetoric and American politics (p. 42). To Vigil, such efforts are planned messages that "encourage audience members to see their interests as conjoined with the interests of the candidate, or to get them to perceive the opposition as lacking the proper perspective to reliably represent their interests" (p. 42). The rest of the book mechanistically applies these building and blocking strategies to national convention speeches that date from 1980 to 2012.
The bulk of Vigil's work is an admirable exploration of the variety of surrogates who speak on behalf of the nominee at the convention. Dividing the addresses into specific categories clarifies how each speaker can build consubstantial bonds with the American public. For example, keynote speakers tend to "set the tone for the convention" (p. 112). Although other speakers might be able to rally...