Debatkultur i dagens Danmark: En kvalitativ analyse af borgernes holdning til den politiske debat i Danmark

Susanne Maar Jensen & Kathrine Rostrup Lorentzen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Inspired by Christian Kock and his recent book on the state of political debate in Denmark, this thesis focuses on how Danes assess the quality of political debate, what they believe constitute good and bad debate, and whether or not their assessment corresponds to that of the leading theorists and their norms for good debate. Conclusively, the thesis investigates how the debate can be improved. The first part of the thesis presents the background literature on rhetoric, argumentation and debate, in order to define what debate is, what norms constitute good debate and how to assess the quality of debate and argumentation. Kock’s theory is supplemented with theories from Douglas Walton, Douglas Ehninger & Wayne Brockriede, Charlotte Jørgensen & Merete Onsberg and Anders Due among others. In order to get an in-depth account of the participants’ view on the political debate, we derived our empirical results from four focus groups with a total of 20 participants varying in sex, age, educational background and political affiliation. The participants were shown three examples of political debates and asked to comment on them, and answer follow-up questions in discussion with each other. Prior to the focus groups the three clips were analyzed with the purpose of investigating the quality of the politicians’ argumentation, using the theories’ criteria and norms for evaluation of political debate in order to compare the results with the focus groups afterwards. The results from the focus groups showed both similarities and differences in the comments and assessments compared to the theorists’. Firstly, according to the participants the purpose of debate is to clarify a certain debate topic and hear arguments from both sides, thereby enlightening the viewers’ knowledge of the topic and enabling the viewer to weigh them against each other - a view that corresponds to the theorists. However, nearly half of the participants viewed the purpose of debate from the politicians’ perspective - stating that debate is about getting people’s votes. Secondly, the participants expressed a general dissatisfaction with the debate and criticized the frequent occurrences of personal attacks and focus on the opponent’s previous mistakes and flawed policies. However, when the focus groups were asked specifically about the three examples of TV-debates, their assessments differed from their initial assessment of the debate in general. There were several instances where the participants did not recognize personal attacks, straw men, and lack of appropriate replies in various forms, despite the fact that this was something the participants had criticized happening too often in debates. The results also showed indications that the participants have been affected by the media’s cynical approach to political debate with its focus on political strategy instead of the quality of argumentation. Evidence showed that the media had a profound effect on the participants’ view of the general state of debate. The media influenced the responses of the participants whose understanding was clearly reflective of the cynical portrayal of politicians as schemers and endless campaigners. Nearly half of the participants defined the purpose of debate based on the politicians’ intended effect. Primarily, their assessments of the debates were founded on efficiency on behalf of the politicians and not on whether the politicians had followed the norms for good debate. This is also causative of the way in which the media covers the debate. The last part of the thesis discusses who is responsible for maintaining the quality of political debate, enabling citizens to make informed decisions on political issues, and concludes that there is a need for a change not only in the media and politicians’ cynical approach, but also in the citizens’ lack of sense of responsibility. Both the media, the politicians and the citizens need to take their part of the responsibility and take active part in improving the debate; the media can’t just presume the worst from the politicians, the politicians need to deliver solid argumentation, instead of viewing the citizens as having unchangeable preferences and being immune to arguments. Finally, the citizens can’t merely shut off debates and stop listing. The thesis concludes with a discussion of possible improvements to the political debate from both Kock and the 20 focus group participants. From this conclusions were drawn that the quality of the debate could be improved if the media placed a greater emphasis on informing the viewers, rather than focusing on spin and strategy. Moreover, the media could help point out different aspects of the debate, which the citizens could utilize to uncover the politicians’ illegitimate argumentation moves.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages127