Date of Award

Fall 12-2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication

Committee Chair

Keith Erickson

Committee Chair Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member 2

Steven Venette

Committee Member 2 Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member 3

John Meyer

Committee Member 3 Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member 4

Charles Tardy

Committee Member 5

Richard Conville


The following study is an examination of the negativity on candidate-sponsored websites for the 2008 United States Senate candidates. Results of a content analysis indicated that negative themes identified were more likely to be oppositional than comparative (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1991) and were more likely to be characterbased than policy-based (Benoit, 1999, 2007). The majority of negative themes were identified as focusing on issue stands rather than political record, job experience, criminal activities, religion, marriage/sex life, family members, medical history, or personal life (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland's, 1989).

Results of the content analysis go against the assumption of functional theory (Benoit, 2007, 1999; Benoit, Blaney, & Pier, 1998; Benoit, Pier, & Blaney, 1997) that policy themes will be more prevalent than character themes. In addition, Johnson-Cartee and Copeland's (1989) typology of negative theme types was updated in order to be more relevant to candidate websites.

Ultimately, a typology of negative themes on candidate-sponsored websites was developed stemming from the results of the content analysis. The typology is derived not only from the results of the present study, but also from typologies developed to examine negative themes in other media (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland's, 1989, 1991; Benoit, 1999, 2007). This typology is a two-by-two matrix. Negative themes can be classified as oppositional and policy-based, oppositional and character-based, comparative and policybased, or comparative and character-based. Once a negative theme is placed into one of four categories, it can be broken down into past deeds, personal qualities, future deeds, and leadership qualities.