Published: April 24, 2024

Name: Robert Hellums   
Advisor: Prof. Kate Arnold-Murray
Class: LING 1000: Language in US Society
Semester: Fall 2023
LURA 2024


In 2023, President Biden had seen a steady decline in his approval ratings and sought to capitalize on his role in the Russo-Ukrainian war to boost his popularity. In “War Zone”, a Biden-Harris 2024 campaign ad published in September 2023, the campaign uses linguistic strategies to project strength and decisiveness in the face of sagging approval ratings and concerns by voters surrounding President Biden's age and capacity to lead the United States.


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Figure 1. President Biden Greets President Zelensky (Source: Biden-Harris, 2023).


“War Zone” opens to scenes of decrepit apartment buildings and a bombed-out shopping center, implied to be targets of recent Russian bombing campaigns (Figures 2 and 3).


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Figure 2. Damaged Kyiv Apartment Building (Source: Biden-Harris 2023).


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Figure 3. Damaged Kyiv Building (Source: Biden-Harris, 2023).


Two voiceovers co-occur with these macabre images, one voice belonging to the ad’s narrator and the other belonging to an unknown newscaster. These authoritative voices set the stage to frame Biden’s visit to Ukraine as a monumental moment in world history, describing the situation as “a very significant moment on the world stage” and claiming that the visit “was the first time in modern history that an American president went into a war zone not controlled by the United States.” These carefully selected sound bites take advantage of the linguistic strategy of framing, or how speakers use language to shape the way that an audience understands and responds to a particular issue. Specifically, this campaign relies on stereotypes surrounding what kinds of voices the average American views as credible to project a ‘voice of authority’. Appealing to Standard Language Ideology, the narrator's voice could be described as masculine, deep, precise, and full of conviction, similar to how one might imagine a prototypical military leader. The newscaster’s voice could be described as having clarity, consistency, and concision, similar to how one might imagine a stereotypical U.S. newscaster to sound. These archetypes exist as some of the most trusted and authoritative public figures in the imagination of the American public (Lippi-Green, 2012). By utilizing these specific voices to convey the message about the significance of the conflict in Ukraine, the Biden-Harris campaign uses ‘voices of authority’ to convince the viewer of their world view, without actually revealing who the speakers are. This supports Lippi-Green’s (2012) argument that “as is often the case when authority is claimed in public forums, the identity and credentials of the cited expert are left conveniently in the shadows” (p. 131). Following Arnold-Murray (2021), this voiceover strategy allows viewers of the ad to conjure images of an unshakably strong authoritative speaker or an image of a thoughtful, yet analytical newscaster. As these voices present Biden’s visit as a critical point in not only American history but also world history, Biden’s actions are framed as admirably strong and decisive. Furthermore, the ad implies that a geriatric leader could never step up to the plate in the way President Biden has.

Later in the advertisement, the same narrator recounts the events of the trip, saying, “He entered Ukraine under the cover of night, and in the morning, Joe Biden walked shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the war-torn streets. Standing up for democracy in a place where a tyrant is waging war to take it away”.


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Figure 4. Kyiv Under Siege (Source: Biden-Harris, 2023).


This impressive description of President Biden’s trip is played over images of the war-torn streets of Kyiv (Figure 4) and a subsequent shot of tyrannical Russian President Vladimir Putin, who stands smugly sipping champagne in one of the gilded state rooms of the Kremlin (Figure 5). 


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Figure 5. Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin (Source: Biden-Harris, 2023).


The juxtaposition of the narration with these images serve to contrast President Biden’s strength in “standing up for democracy” among the tattered streets of a democratic nation with President Putin’s “wag[ing] war” from the seat of European authoritarianism in the glamorous Russian Baroque-styled Kremlin. This contrast acts as a fear appeal, a strategy Arnold-Murray (2021) describes as demonstrating to audiences that choosing the wrong candidate or course of action could have disastrous consequences. This contrast is both audibly and visually presented to serve multiple purposes. First, it demonstrates that an alternative candidate would not be able to handle the challenges of this conflict as deftly as President Biden. Second, it underscores President Biden’s strength in standing up to President Putin. Third, by appealing to the pre-existing connection between President Putin and President Biden’s opponent (e.g., Figure 6), former American president Donald Trump, the narrative suggests that Biden’s stance is not only against Putin but also against Trump. This extension reinforces Biden’s position as a decisive leader confronting adversaries both abroad and within the political landscape of his own country.


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Figure 6. With US President Donald Trump (Source: Kremlin, 2017).


By utilizing linguistic strategies such as framing, voiceovers, and fear appeals, the Biden-Harris campaign presents Biden as a strong, competent leader. This narrative allows their campaign to push back against popular narratives that attack President Biden as weak and lacking the mental capacity to serve another term as president. However, this framing strategy is a potential double-edged sword. 

In emphasizing President Biden’s resolve through media strategies that showcase powerful and militaristic themes, this advertisement casts him in a hawkish light. This was a desired effect in September 2023 when this ad was published. However, in recent months as the United States has been increasingly involved in the Israel-Hamas war, conceptions of Biden as a hawkish president have been detrimental to his popularity among many on the Left.


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Figure 7. Michigan Voter Participating in Anti-Biden Protest Vote (Source: Aaron Levinsky, Star Tribune, 2024).


In response, President Biden has been forced to dial back his hawkish stature and take a more conciliatory approach. Therefore, messaging such as this “War Zone” ad combined with contentious foreign policy choices might risk alienating Biden’s steadfast liberal supporters.


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Figure 8. President Biden at the State of the Union (Source: Office of the President of the United States, 2024).


 “War Zone” highlights the powerful nature of effective linguistic strategies in political advertising, emphasizing the need for cautious messaging in a dynamic global political climate.


Title Image Credit 

White House. (2023). Biden visits Kyiv. 315th Airlift Wing. United States Air Force. Retrieved March 14, 2024, from


  1. Arnold-Murray, K. (2021). Multimodally constructed dialogue in political campaign commercials. Journal of Pragmatics, 173, 15–27.
  2. "War Zone | Biden-Harris 2024" YouTube, uploaded by Joe Biden, 7 September 2023,
  3. Kremlin. (2017). With US President Donald Trump. President of Russia. Kremlin. Retrieved March 14, 2024, from
  4. Lavinsky, A. (2024). Organizers with Minnesota’s Vote Uncommitted campaign said their nearly 19% turnout in the state’s Democratic presidential primary should serve as a warning sign to Democrats. Star Tribune. Retrieved March 29, 2024, from
  5. Lippi-Green, R., Barrett, R., Cramer, J., & McGowan, K. B. (2023). English with an accent language, ideology and discrimination in the United States. Routledge.
  6. Office of the President of the United States. (2024). Biden SOTU 2024. photograph. Retrieved March 29, 2024, from
  7. White House. (2023). Biden visits Kyiv. 315th Airlift Wing. United States Air Force. Retrieved March 14, 2024, from