Election Pledge Rhetoric: Selling Policy with Words

Elina Lindgren, Elin Naurin


This article investigates the possibilities that political parties have to sell specific policies to a broad electorate by use of persuasive words in election pledges. Prior research has shown that parties can increase their electoral support by targeting different groups of voters with different policies or by moderating policy platforms to the center. We investigate whether voters’ appreciation of specific policy pledges increases when rhetoric is used to appeal broadly. Inspired by literature on philosophy of language and linguistic semantics, we designed a survey experiment in which 1,960 Swedish citizens evaluated election pledges. We randomized whether the policy was described using universal persuasive words. Results showed that universal persuasive words increase the appreciation of specific policy pledges, particularly among individuals oriented close to and at the center of the ideological left–right scale (the median voters). The effects decrease with ideological (left and right) extremity. In times when center voters become increasingly important for election outcomes, indications that they are susceptible to universal, but left–right ideology-neutral, rhetoric are interesting both for parties and scholars of the same.


persuasive words, political rhetoric across ideological divides, election pledges, political communication, linguistic semantic

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