How Parties & Politicians Communicate with Voters

One of the key determinants driving democracy and elections is how political elites link themselves and their preferences to the people (Dahl 1971; Downs 1957). A burgeoning literature seeks to understand the linkage between political elites and voters by analysing party positions and voters’ perceptions thereof (Adams 2001; Budge et al. 2001; Laver et al. 2003; Slapin & Proksch 2008; Somer-Topcu 2015). Parties routinely communicate with voters when giving speeches, when drafting campaign materials such as their manifestos or when dueling with each other in televised debates. Yet current research mostly focuses on the positional adaptation of parties to voters and, in turn, how voters interpret such positional shifts. Thereby, the existing research largely neglects the style and tone politicians use when communicating with the masses (for notable exceptions, see Spirling 2015; Young & Soroka 2012).

One of the key observations of political pundits is that in many ways the styles of discourse seem to be changing radically in contemporary political campaigns. A case in point is Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 American presidential campaign. Trump applied a simple and mostly repetitive style of speech throughout his campaign. In turn, observers of the presidential race quickly came to the conclusion that specifically his simple style of speech making was a key strategic tool to seduce the masses. Despite the widespread public allegations that his simple style of speech might be a strategic tool to communicate campaign messages to voters, little scholarly work has looked into who employs simple campaign messages. In addition, the question of how simplicity might in turn affect voters has not been analysed and discussed in the scholarly literature so far.

I seek to study specifically the style and tone used in parties’ campaign messages and speeches. To do so I use large text bodies and employ quantitative text analysis (Grimmer & Stewart 2013) to investigate patterns of party communication across time, countries and parties. Furthermore, together with several colleagues I have designed a survey and a field experiment to test several arguments stemming from this research agenda.

Output
  1. with Roman Senninger. 2017. “Simple Politics for the People? Complexity in Campaign Messages and Political Knowledge.” European Journal of Political Research: first view.
  2. 2018. “Ideological Congruence between Party Rhetoric & Policy-Making.” West European Politics 41(2): 310-328.
  3. with Denise Traber. “Clutter: How much information do party manifestos contain?”
    • Paper in progress
  4. with Roman Senninger. “What Kind of European Union Oversight Do Voters Want from Parties?”
    • Paper in progress
  5. with Florian Foos, Sarah Cohen, Gidon Cohen, Patrick M. Kuhn, Kyriaki Nanou, Nick Visalvanich & Nick Vivyan. “Seeking the Personal Vote: How Legislators Exploit the Party Line.”
    • Research design & paper in progress
Funding
  1. with Florian Foos, Sarah Cohen, Gidon Cohen, Patrick M. Kuhn, Kyriaki Nanou, Nick Visalvanich & Nick Vivyan. “Seeking the Personal Vote: How Legislators Exploit the Party Line.” funded by British Academy Small Research Grant (2017-2019). (10.000 GBP)
  2. with Céline Colombo. “Voter Competence and the Complexity of Political Messages.” funded by the Department of Political Science, UZH. (16.000 CHF)
  3. with Roman Senninger & Céline Colombo. “Voter Competence and the Complexity of Political Messages.” funded by the Aarhus University Interacting Minds Center. (65.000 DKK)