Date of Conferral





Public Policy and Administration


Kristen Dailey


Political polarization in the United States increased dramatically in the 21st Century and

the resulting partisan divisions impeded compromise necessary for effective governance. The purpose of this qualitative exploratory case study was to examine whether, and to what extent, Twitter usage by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump contributed to political polarization during the 2016 U.S. Presidential race. Political spectacle, developed by Murray Edelman, served as the conceptual framework. Political spectacle involved the creation of an alternative universe of facts and interpretations to isolate opponents. A qualitative case study research design was employed to explore the Twitter usage by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential election between January and November 2016. Clinton and Trump used Twitter to divide voters by forcing a choice on a binary issue and tailoring content to create separate universes in which both candidates cannot be correct. Edelman referred to this concept as bimodal value structuring. The weapon of choice was personal attacks. One third of Trump’s 3,981 Tweets included personal attacks on Clinton’s character, often referring to Crooked Hillary. One fourth of Clinton’s 5,555 Tweets included accusations of racism, sexism, or xenophobia. Twitter exacerbated political polarization by creating echo chambers that communicate slogans without context or nuance. Study findings raised consciousness by identifying how politicians use polarization to their benefit and a detriment to the political process and effective governance. Future research is needed on how to use this knowledge to change political rhetoric and reduce polarization.