Attacking Ethos: The Rhetorical Use of Uncertainty In the 2004 Election

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Keith V. Erickson

Advisor Department

Communication Studies


The rhetorical use of uncertainty in political communication (and other areas) has many implications. Uncertainty plays a major role in everyday life. Therefore, it likely plays a major role in political decision-making. Research has shown that uncertainty about a candidate affects a voter's voting preference. Uncertainty usually affects voter decisions. Uncertainty was a factor in the 2004 presidential election. The Bush-Cheney campaign used uncertainty to corrupt the ethos of the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. The Bush-Cheney campaign rhetorically manipulated information about Senator Kerry to create a perception of a leader whose actions revealed an unpredictable flip-flopper. A lack of clear prediction caused one major effect. People lacked a desired sense of certainty and consistency in a leader during uncertain times, and an increase in uncertainty caused a decrease in identification. In the 2004 presidential election the Bush-Cheney campaign used strategic uncertainty to attack Senator Kerry's ethos.