Political Provocations in the Electoral Debates of U.S. Presidential Candidates

Political Provocations in the Electoral Debates of U.S. Presidential Candidates

Tumskiy S.V.,

MGIMO University, Moscow, Russia, statum@mail.ru

elibrary_id: 717325 |

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2021.06.10

For citation:

Tumskiy S.V. Political Provocations in the Electoral Debates of U.S. Presidential Candidates. – Polis. Political Studies. 2021. No. 6. P. 137-154. (In Russ.). https://doi.org/10.17976/jpps/2021.06.10


Provocations, in various politicians’ speeches, aimed at forming a favorable public opinion, play an increasingly noticeable role in the current political processes of the world, particularly in the United States. This article examines the use of provocations and manipulative techniques in electoral debates with an emphasis on Donald Trump’s speeches in the pre-election televised debates in 2020. For the study, we analyzed the full text of Trump’s and Biden’s speeches that they made during the pre-election televised debates in October 2020, including two communicative situations with the use of provocations, as separate case studies. The paper uses the methods of grounded theory, including semantic, conceptual, discursive, content analysis, document analysis (data from the media), and case studies. Semantic and conceptual analysis made it possible to single out the implicit meanings, and highlight the cases of the use of provocations by participants in the televised debates. Statistical analysis made it possible to determine the frequency of the use of provocative techniques by the communicants, to group the cases where provocations were used. The study revealed cases of the use of provocations within the framework of communicative tactics of justification, victimization, virtualization of reality, creation of false images, and accusations of an implicit nature. The author concluded that the active use of provocations by politicians in the electoral discourse can be instrumental in strengthening their positions in the pre-election struggle, in the absence of clear advantages over the rival. On the other hand, the high frequency of provocations and manipulative-provocative techniques in the speech of politicians can create reputational risks, and reduce the likelihood of a provocative candidate winning the election. 

electoral discourse, political discourse, provocation, manipulation, communication strategy, public opinion.


Boudana S., Segev E. 2017a. Theorizing Provocation Narratives as Communication Strategies. – Communication Theory. Vol. 27. No. 4. P. 329-346. https://doi.org/10.1111/comt.12119

Boudana S., Segev E. 2017b. The Bias of Provocation Narratives in International News. International Journal of Press/Politics. Vol. 22. No. 3. P. 314-332. https://doi.org/10.1177/1940161217704968

Charmaz K. 2014. Constructing Grounded Theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Glaser B., Strauss A. 2009. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research (4th ed.). New Brunswick: Aldine.

Luhmann N. 1979. Trust and Power. Chichester: Wiley. 228 p.

Strauss A., Corbin J. 1990. Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Bucyk E. 2016. Features of the Formation of the Image of a Politician in the Pre-election Race: The Gender Aspect. – Bulletin of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. Series: Theory of language. Semiotics. Semantics. No. 1. P. 91-99. (In Russ.)

Chugrov S. V. 2017. Post-Truth: Transformation of Political Reality or Self-Destruction of Liberal Democracy? – Polis. Political Studies. No. 2. P. 42-59. (In Russ.) https://doi.org/10.17976/jpps/2017.02.04

Danilova A. 2009. Manipulirovanie slovom v sredstvakh massovoi informatsii [Verbal Manipulation in Mass Media]. Moscow: Dobrosvet, KDU. 234 p. (In Russ.)

Dmitriev A., Zadorozhnjuk I. 2016. Interpretation of a Provocation Phenomenon: The Trajectory of Words (History of Arts and Literature Cases). – Sotsial’nyi mir cheloveka [Social World of a Man]. Izhevsk: ERGO. P. 34-37. (In Russ.)

Dmitriev A. 2016. Provokatsiya: sfery kommunikativnogo proyavleniya [Provocation. Spheres of Communicative Manifestаtion]. Ed. by A. Dmitriev. Moscow: Rusajns. P. 7-17. (In Russ.)

Dmitriev A., Sychev A. 2017. Provokatsiya. Vvedenie v teoriyu [Provocation. Introduction to the Theory]. Moscow: Yurait. 338 p. (In Russ.)

Freik N. 2006. The Concept of Trust in P. Sztompka’s Research. – Sociological Studies. No. 11. P. 10-18. (In Russ.)

Glukhova A. 2016a. On the Issue of the Role of Provocation in Politics. – Vlast’. No. 3. P. 92-96. (In Russ.)

Glukhova A. 2016b. Political Provocation: Nature, Context, Variety. – Provocation: Spheres of Communicative Manifestation. Ed. by А. Dmitriev. Moscow: Rusajns. P. 39-72. (In Russ.)

Issers O. 2009. The Strategy of Speech Provocation in Public Dialogue. – Russian Language in Scientific Coverage. No. 2. P. 92-104. (In Russ.)

Nazarova E. 2017. Provocations in the Media and Their Perception by the Youth Audience. – Communicology. Vol. 5. No. 3. P. 159-168. (In Russ.)

Pashentsev E. 2014. Provocation as an Element of Us Strategic Communication: The Experience of Ukraine. – Public administration. Electronic bulletin. No. 44. P. 149-175. (In Russ.)

Toshhenko Zh. 2015. Fantomy rossiiskogo obshchestva [Phantoms of Russian Society]. Moscow: Centr social’nogo prognozirovanija i marketinga. 669 p. (In Russ.)

Tumskiy S. 2017. Provocation as a Social Action: The Definition of the Phenomenon in the Context of Cross-Disciplinary Analysis. – Sociodynamics. No. 8. P. 1-11. (In Russ.) https://doi.org/10.25136/2409-7144.2017.8.23349 

Content No. 6, 2021

See also:

Bernays E.L.,
Manipulating public opinion: the why and the how. – Polis. Political Studies. 2012. No4

Kubyshkina Ye.V.,
US political discourse under the presidency of G. Bush Jr.: evolution of metaphors. – Polis. Political Studies. 2012. No1

POLITICAL DISCOURSE. – Polis. Political Studies. 2005. No2

POLITICAL DISCOURSE. – Polis. Political Studies. 1997. No6

POLITICAL DISCOURSE. – Polis. Political Studies. 1996. No3



Introducing an article

Polis. Political Studies
2 2011

Winter D.
A King-philosopher or a contradictory politician?

 The article text


   2024      2023      2022      2021   
   2020      2019      2018      2017      2016   
   2015      2014      2013      2012      2011   
   2010      2009      2008      2007      2006   
   2005      2004      2003      2002      2001   
   2000      1999      1998      1997      1996   
   1995      1994      1993      1992      1991