First Advisor

L. David Ritchie

Term of Graduation

Fall 2021

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Communication






American speeches addresses etc -- 21st century -- Moral and ethical aspects, Presidential candidates -- United States -- Ethics, Communication in politics



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 58 pages)


This study explores the moral content evident in speeches by 2020 US Presidential Candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Drawing on Moral Foundations Theory (Haidt, 2013), I test the hypotheses that each candidate's moral content, as measured by the use of certain morally salient keywords, will fall along patterns based on their political affiliation. In testing these hypotheses, I also present a comparison of keyword analysis methods. The first uses a simple word count procedure alongside the Moral Foundations Dictionary 2.0, developed by Frimer et al. (2017), which scores a document based on the presence of words from each of the moral foundations. This method is a direct offshoot of Moral Foundations Theory, with earlier iterations having been used in development of the theory (Graham et al., 2009). The second method uses the extended Moral Foundations Dictionary developed by Hopp et al. (2020), which scores documents based on the moral scores of words derived from a crowd-sourced development project.

Results indicate some departures from the predicted model, but more striking is the finding that there appears to be little significant difference between the two candidates' overall pattern of moral keyword use. However, this pattern is not consistent across both methods of analysis. Thus, I also present a comparison of these methods and comment on underlying differences in operationalization that call into question whether they are truly measuring the same thing.


© 2021 Scott Edward Atkins

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