Immigration in the United States 2016 Presidential Debates: A Functional Analysis

Ahmed Hasani Yaseen, Afida Mohamad Ali, Zalina Mohd Kasim


This paper describes an analysis of the three U.S. 2016 presidential debates published in The New York Times using Benoit’s (2007a) functional theory. The three presidential debates in the U.S., which occur every four years, remain as the most sensitive political rhetoric that lead to the election of the next U.S. President. These debates include discussion of different issues between the two presidential candidates. One of these issues is immigration. The U.S. presidential debates have been researched by many on various aspects but there has not been a study that focus primarily on the issue of immigration in the three 2016 U.S. presidential debates. All statements regarding this issue between the two presidential candidates, Trump and Clinton, were extracted from these debates and analyzed using Benoit's (2007a) functional theory. Findings revealed that attack statements occurred more than acclaims, and defences were less used than acclaims. The statements included in these debates pertained to policy (30%) and character (70%). As expected, general goals were employed more often using acclaim function rather than attack and defend. However, ideals were employed more often using defence than to acclaim and attack. Due to different contexts, situations, and participants, Benoit's (2007a) functional theory may not be generalized for all debates. This study reveals certain inconsistencies regarding some of the hypotheses of Benoit's (2007a) functional theory in relation to our knowledge of the presidential debates, specifically the issue of immigration.


Presidential debates, immigration, functions, topics, policy forms, character forms

Full Text:



Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). "Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2): 211-36.

Benoit, W. L. (2003). Topic of presidential campaign discourse and election outcome. Western Journal of Communication (includes Communication Reports), 67 (1), 97-112.

Benoit, W. L. (2007a). Communication in political campaigns (Vol. 11). Peter Lang.

Benoit, W. L. (2017). A Functional Analysis of 2016 Direct Mail Advertising in Ohio. American Behavioral Scientist

Benoit, W. L., & Airne, D. (2005). A functional analysis of American vice presidential debates. Argumentation and Advocacy, 41(4), 225-236.

Blendon, R. J., Benson, J. M., & Casey, L. S. (2016). Health care in the 2016 election—a view through voters’ polarized lenses. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(17), e37.

Burden, B. C., Crawford, E., & DeCrescenzo, M. G. (2016, December). The Unexceptional Gender Gap of 2016. In The Forum (Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 415-432).

Caldwell, Leigh Ann and Jane C. Timm (2016). Crash Course 2016: Where Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton Stand on the Issues. [Online] Available: (July 25, 2017).

Clarke, M., & Ricketts, A. (2016). Understanding the Return of the Jacksonian Tradition. Orbis. 61(1), 13-26.

Crowson, H. M., & Brandes, J. A. (2017). Differentiating Between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Voters Using Facets of Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social-Dominance Orientation: A Brief Report. Psychological Reports, 120(3), 364-373.

Enli, G. (2017). Twitter as arena for the authentic outsider: exploring the social media campaigns of Trump and Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election. European Journal of Communication, 32(1), 50-61.

Ghayad, R., Cragg, M., & Pinter, F. (2016). Elections and the Economy: What to do about Recessions? The Economists' Voice, 13(1), 9-25.

Harnish, A. (2017). Ableism and the Trump phenomenon. Disability & Society, 32(3), 423-428.

Huang, C. H. (2017). Disillusionment and Disaggregation: Why Did Asian Americans Vote for Trump?. CMC Senior Theses. 1514.

Jacobs, N., & Ceaser, J. W. (2016, December). The 2016 Presidential Election by the Numbers and in Historical Perspective. In The Forum (Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 361-383).

Klar, S., Weber, C. R., & Krupnikov, Y. (2016, December). Social Desirability Bias in the 2016 Presidential Election. In The Forum (Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 433-443).

Landis J, Koch G (1977). The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics 33:159–74.

Lee, C., & Benoit, W. L. (2005). A functional analysis of the 2002 Korean presidential debates. Asian Journal of Communication, 15 (2), 115-132.

Merelli, Annalisa (2016). All the questions Trump and Clinton faced at the second presidential debate of 2016. [Online] Available: (March 13, 2017).

Powers, E. M., Moeller, S. D., & Yuan, Y. (2016). Political Engagement During a Presidential Election Year: A Case Study of Media Literacy Students. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 8(1), 1-14. [Online] Available: (May 22, 2017).

Quam, J., & Ryshina-Pankova, M. (2016). “Let Me Tell You...”: Audience Engagement Strategies in the Campaign Speeches of Trump, Clinton, and Sanders. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 20(4), 140-160.

Reinemann, C., & Maurer, M. (2005). Unifying or Polarizing? Short‐Term Effects and Post Debate Consequences of Different Rhetorical Strategies in Televised Debates. Journal of Communication, 55(4), 775-794. b03022.x.

Slutsky, P., & Gavra, D. (2017). The Phenomenon of Trump’s Popularity in Russia: Media Analysis Perspective. American Behavioral Scientist, 0002764217693281.

The New York Times (2016a). The first 2016 presidential debate. [Online] Available: (October 24, 2016).

The New York Times (2016b). The second 2016 presidential debate. [Online] Available: html?_r=0. (October 23, 2016).

The New York Times (2016c). The third 2016 presidential debate. [Online] Available: = 0. (October 24, 2016).

Zarefsky, D. (2016). How It All Began: The Origins of Presidential Campaigning in the United States. In W. L. Benoit (Eds.), Praeger Handbook of Political Campaigning in the United States, 1.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2023 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.