Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Steven Tauber, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Daly, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jonathan Knuckey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl Rodriguez, Ph.D.


Presidential Speeches, Racially Stigmatizing Code Words, Racial Resentment, Social Safety Net


Political and historical literature largely attributes the political development of the Southern Strategy to the 1964 Barry Goldwater and 1968 Richard Nixon presidential campaigns. The Southern Strategy is commonly explained as the Republican Party’s 1964 campaign decision to abandon Black voters in the North to expand its national political base of support by seeking White voters outside of the South who were angry with the political advancements of the Civil Rights Movement (Aistrup 1996, 5; Bass and DeVries 1976, 27). Discussions of Ronald Reagan’s role in the development of the Southern Strategy describe him more as a beneficiary rather than a significant influence in the Republican Party’s efforts to nationalize Southern racial politics (Aistrup 1996, 12; Black and Black 2002, 4). However, his speeches equated social spending with racial stigmas and pathological behavior. The fusion of economic issues and racial stereotypes has influenced future presidential politics since 1964 with Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech (Reagan 1964). The racialized language used by Reagan in his speech has influenced the rhetorical frame of the Southern Strategy in the last six decades.

This qualitative study utilizes content analysis to examine the impact of racially coded language of Democratic and Republican presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, when they argue the legitimacy of the social safety net. The study seeks to expand the knowledge of the prevalence of the politics of pathology, which is defined as the belief that social spending encourages individuals to engage in immoral behavior and is used by presidents to mitigate or cultivate racial resentment.