In an era of unprecedented poverty and unemployment, FDR confronted an audience that looked to him for hope and the promise of assistance, and gradually his stump speech came to embody those hopes. At the end of the campaign, his oral “platform” was far more radical than it had been at the outset. There was a real sense in which, cumulatively, the audience at the whistle-stops had written (or shall we say “selected”) his speech for him.

Does anyone know what the phrase means?

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    Something that is real actually exists and is not imagined, invented, or theoretical. A sense can be a feeling or impression. Jan 11 at 15:36

Generally speaking, "in a real sense" means "not literally true, but there's real truth in it". It's also in contrast with "in some airy-fairy, hippie-dippie or pseudoscientific sense".

This expression is used when the words you might use to describe the situation imply more than you mean, and you need to qualify your statement so it's not an overstatement.

In the example above, the people in the audiences at the whistle-stops didn't literally write FDR's stump speech with their own hands, or even dictate to him directly, but because he started including more and more of their words in his stump speech, they really did write parts of his speech.

Normally, when we say that somebody wrote a speech, it means they chose the words for the speech themselves. The audience members never did this, but they did came up with the words that ended up in the speech. So it's accurate to say they wrote the words, but the implication that they did it intentionally is incorrect. The phrase "in a real sense" makes it clear the writer doesn't mean "wrote the speech" in the normally inferred sense.

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