Reaching Muslims from the Bully Pulpit: Analyzing Modern Presidential Discourse on Islam and Muslims from FDR to Trump
U.S. political discourse increasingly emphasizes Islam and Muslims. Rooted in political communication and religious discourse scholarship, this study seeks to identify broader trends and patterns in modern presidential discourse on Islam. Our quantitative content analysis builds on a sample of nearly 1,500 invocations of Islam and Muslims in U.S. presidents’ spoken domestic communications, ranging from Franklin Roosevelt (1933) to Donald Trump (2018). Results indicate that Islam largely entered presidential discourse during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. Since then, references to Islam and Muslims have risen (particularly since the Clinton administration) and have tended to be embedded in foreign rather than domestic contexts. Presidential discourse on Islam has primarily focused on people (e.g., Muslims, Muslim Americans) and over time has become less likely to be linked to other communities of faiths. Presidents have consistently associated Islam and Muslims with notions of violence, but, with the exception of Trump, portrayals frame them as opponents or targets rather than enablers of violence. Our empirical findings are discussed in their historical and sociopolitical context.