By Britton Alexander
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama visited Chapel Hill. In front of a crowd of 8,000 people, he spoke of higher education and student loans. From many individuals’ points of view, the speech was just about policy and his campaign to extend legislation that lowered student-loan interest rates. With Chancellor Holden Thorp and student Dominique Garland introducing the speech with talks of higher education affordability, who could think the president would have any other goal than to educate and garner support from his listeners on the issue?
But according to this article written by James Druckman, Lawrence Jacobs, and Eric Ostermeier, candidates almost always have a second agenda when discussing policy: image management. According to the authors, “image and issue priming are not mutually exclusive strategies – issues and images are linked” (1184). With this in mind, we can see that Obama was not only expanding on his policy preferences but also promoting his image as a strong individual and the right candidate for president.
The four traits that the authors view as most appealing to the public are competence, strength, warmth, and trust, and it would be difficult to say Obama did not characterize all of these traits during his speech. Early on, he spoke of his prediction that UNC would win March Madness, and this immediately developed a level of warmth and amiability with the public. He then spoke about holding colleges accountable and investing in things that will help students in the future. “No matter how many obstacles that may stand in our way, I promise you North Carolina, there are better days ahead,” Obama said. Because of the certainty in these statements, North Carolinians saw Obama’s strength. In the eyes of the viewers, Obama will make a difference and we can trust him to better America’s future. Finally the statement “in America, WE don’t quit” shows his competence and dedication.
These speech excerpts show that although it may appear that Obama was only trying to garner support for extending lowered student-loan interest rates, the president was strategically priming his image. He wants voters to see him in a positive light and to dismiss any negative characteristics that may be associated with him. To do this, he will continue to combine his issue and image priming during speeches, appearances, and more.