“Communication and the Body Politic: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign in Philadelphia’s Latino Community” (Doctoral Dissertation)
Communication and the Body Politic: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign in Philadelphia’s Latino Community
This dissertation contains a qualitative case study of how Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, and her staff, created communication systems to contact Latinos during the 2016 presidential campaign and how these systems operated in Northeast Philadelphia. Three research questions guided these observations: How was political communication produced, disseminated, and decoded through interpersonal, mass, and digital communication by the Democratic candidate, her Latino communication staff, and Northeast Philadelphia Latino residents during the 2016 presidential campaign? What were the functions, norms, and values that structured the political communication systems among the Democratic candidate, her Latino communication staff, and Northeast Philadelphia Latino residents? What were the power relations that informed the interactions between the Democratic candidate, her Latino communication staff, and Northeast Philadelphia Latino residents in the political communication system?
The dissertation employs the Political Communication Systems Model, a toolkit to observe and theorize on political communication. Under the grounded theory umbrella, two methods were used to collect data. First, Clinton’s mediated campaign communication was monitored. Second, I worked as a volunteer in a field operations office that Clinton opened in Philadelphia and performed a participant observation.
Clinton built a political communication machine to produce a campaign that used a hybrid media system. She hired a large staff to design and execute an air war (i.e., radio and TV ads and journalistic coverage), a digital campaign (i.e., distribution of information through websites, blogs, social media, newsletters and text messages), and a ground game (i.e., canvassing, phone banking, and online messaging). The Latino campaign was designed to promote liberal values such as globalism, cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, and diversity, values that shaped her economic and political proposals.
The ground game had three main objectives in Northeast Philadelphia: register new voters, create strategies to persuade undecided voters to support Hillary Clinton, and organize the “Get Out the Vote” (GOTV), which consists of convincing people to get out their houses, go to the polling station, and vote.
A substantial part of the dissertation focuses on describing and analyzing the ground game in Northeast Philadelphia and offers two significant findings. First, political communication systems need material infrastructures operate. Clinton built a material infrastructure to communicate with residents. This infrastructure was made, primarily, of human bodies that were able to move around the territory and use other communicative technologies smartphones, tablets, and computers. Second, human bodies were also used as symbolic devices. Clinton recruited staffers and volunteers whose bodies embodied values such as diversity, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and globalism. The biographies and trajectories of these individuals projected these values, because they were persons from different parts of Latin America, with diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, and with different experiences of being a U.S. citizen or resident.
Finally, the dissertation offers two main contributions. On the one hand, the dissertation expands the Political Communication Systems Model and suggests that the human body is the primary material unit in political communication infrastructures. On the other, this work illustrates how qualitative research can be employed for researching political communication in general, and presidential campaigns in particular.