Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

Populism, party membership, and language complexity in the Italian chamber of deputies


Decadri, Silvia; Boussalis, Constantine (2020). Populism, party membership, and language complexity in the Italian chamber of deputies. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, 30(4):484-503.

Abstract

Common wisdom suggests that populist politicians use a simple language. While scholars have provided vast anecdotal evidence of populists’ plain speech style, the empirical literature on populist communication offers very few and mixed comprehensive evaluations of the complexity of elected officials’ language. This paper relies on a novel populist dictionary and 78,855 utterances from the 17th Italian parliament – March 2013–July 2016 – to comprehensively study the link between populism and speech complexity. We argue that ideological and electoral considerations lead populist parties and politicians to employ a straightforward language. Moreover, we claim that party membership shapes the rhetoric of elected officials, leading members of populist parties to use a simpler language. Using computer-assisted text analytic techniques to inspect parliamentary speeches given by the members of nine Italian parties, we perform a difference-in-differences analysis of the influence of party switching on legislators’ behaviour. Our results suggest that populist ideology, electoral strategy, and party membership influence legislators’ language complexity. Our overarching conclusion is that language simplicity might be thought of as a feature of populist communication. This arguably has implications for the ability of populist actors to use a simple communication style to outperform their mainstream counterparts when competing for voters’ support.

Abstract

Common wisdom suggests that populist politicians use a simple language. While scholars have provided vast anecdotal evidence of populists’ plain speech style, the empirical literature on populist communication offers very few and mixed comprehensive evaluations of the complexity of elected officials’ language. This paper relies on a novel populist dictionary and 78,855 utterances from the 17th Italian parliament – March 2013–July 2016 – to comprehensively study the link between populism and speech complexity. We argue that ideological and electoral considerations lead populist parties and politicians to employ a straightforward language. Moreover, we claim that party membership shapes the rhetoric of elected officials, leading members of populist parties to use a simpler language. Using computer-assisted text analytic techniques to inspect parliamentary speeches given by the members of nine Italian parties, we perform a difference-in-differences analysis of the influence of party switching on legislators’ behaviour. Our results suggest that populist ideology, electoral strategy, and party membership influence legislators’ language complexity. Our overarching conclusion is that language simplicity might be thought of as a feature of populist communication. This arguably has implications for the ability of populist actors to use a simple communication style to outperform their mainstream counterparts when competing for voters’ support.

Statistics

Citations

Dimensions.ai Metrics
1 citation in Web of Science®
3 citations in Scopus®
Google Scholar™

Altmetrics

Downloads

0 downloads since deposited on 29 Dec 2020
0 downloads since 12 months

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Political Science
Uncontrolled Keywords:sociology and political science
Language:English
Date:November 2020
Deposited On:29 Dec 2020 14:12
Last Modified:30 Dec 2020 21:00
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN:1745-7289
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1080/17457289.2019.1593182

Download

Closed Access: Download allowed only for UZH members