Credibility as a Differentiation and Relational Strategy: A Functional Analysis of CNN’s Unprecedented Democratic Climate Crisis Town Hall Forum

Diana Zulli, Meaghan McKasy


Extending Benoit’s functional theory of campaign communication and drawing on public relations research, this content analysis positions source credibility—trustworthiness, expertise, relatability, and evidence—as a useful differentiation and relational strategy during primary campaigns. Results from analyzing CNN’s unprecedented 2019 climate change town hall forum indicate that the Democratic candidates favored relatability appeals and were more likely to reference their credibility when asked questions from the audience. Female politicians were more likely to reference their trustworthiness and include more than one credibility tactic in their responses. And, candidates ranked lower in the polls were more likely to reference their relatability. The implications for political public relations are discussed.


credibility, political public relations, functional campaign communication, primary campaigns, issue ownership

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