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Talk “Like a Man”: The Linguistic Styles of Hillary Clinton, 1992–2013

Abstract

Hillary Clinton is arguably the most prominent woman in American politics today. Past research suggests female politicians conform to masculine communication styles in an attempt to evade the “double bind.” Clinton’s long and varied career thus provides an important and useful case study for investigating how female politicians present themselves strategically. Drawing on research in political psychology, political communication, social psychology, and linguistics I examine whether Clinton talked “like a man” as she navigated a path toward political leadership by conducting a quantitative textual analysis of 567 interview transcripts and candidate debates between 1992–2013. Results on Clinton’s linguistic style suggest her language grew increasingly masculine over time, as her involvement and power in politics expanded. I also consider Clinton’s language in the context of her 2007–2008 presidential campaign. In 2007, Clinton’s linguistic style was consistently masculine, supporting widespread accounts of Clinton’s campaign strategy. Beginning in late 2007, however, Clinton’s language became more feminine, reflecting a shift in the self-presentational strategies advised by her campaign staff. Throughout the 2008 campaign period, Clinton’s language fluctuated dramatically from one interview to the next, reflecting a candidate—and campaign—in crisis. This study reveals hidden insight into the strategies Clinton used as she navigated through the labyrinth toward leadership. Changes in Clinton’s linguistic style reflect the performance of gendered roles, expectations of political leaders, and the masculine norms of behavior that permeate political institutions.

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