Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Deviant Behavior 2020, Vol. 41, No. 5, pp. 628–648.

DOI: 10.1080/01639625.2019.1582972


Copyright © 2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


In televised campaign advertisements, political rhetoric potently combines with visual metaphors. Drawing on a digital library of presidential campaign ads from 1952 to 2016, the qualitative media analysis scrutinized how crime rhetoric became visual metaphor. Crime images were positioned and manipulated alongside other content to craft a story about crime and the candidates. Across all ads, two tactics emerged: depicting crime as a problem akin to other social ills – a dark stain; and posing crime as the sinister side to an otherwise vibrant society – a lurking shadow. Candidates were branded as janitors and sheriffs who could rally against these foes.