Politicians who use violent rhetoric are driving greater polarization

October 26, 2017

Scroll through Twitter or watch an NFL game and you'll quickly remember we live in a time of unprecedented political polarization. Who's to blame for the lack of unity? According to BYU and LSU researchers, politicians' penchant for using violent language isn't helping.

"Even if it's metaphorical, and everyone knows it, there's something that happens when you frame things in terms of battle or war that has real-world consequences," said BYU professor Josh Gubler.

Recent research by Gubler, fellow BYU professor David Wood and LSU professor Nathan Kalmoe reveals that when politicians use words like "fight" or "battle" instead of "work" and "struggle," they excite their own bases, but also polarize those on the other side of the political divide.

For their study, recently published in the journal Political Communication, the researchers had Republicans and Democrats read political statements on policy issues, then measured their support for these policies. Some subjects read statements with words like "fight" or "battle" while others read statements with synonyms like "effort" and "work."

Gubler, Wood and Kalmoe found the common violent metaphors actively drove aggressive partisans further apart on issues, resulting in a polarization effect of 20 percent, despite such a subtle shift in language.

"Many partisans are pushed to see politics as war today, rallying to their party's platform when cued with violent metaphors," Wood said. "You might get your base more excited, but you might be less likely to get anything done because the other side is also moving farther away from what you want."

So how are politicians supposed to excite their bases without pushing the other side away?

Kalmoe suggests a process called micro-targeting, which is a narrower way to send messages to registered voters. An example of this would be sending an email campaign to certain voters as opposed to a television ad that everyone can see.

"If you can restrict your use of that language or the reception of that language to people that are just on your side, then you have the ability to push in one direction on political issues," Kalmoe said.

While politicians use this language frequently, they aren't entirely to blame. The media, according to the research team, are as well.

"This language also appears in a lot of news coverage because journalists find it useful to play up the conflict," Kalmoe said. "Even when it's just meant to try to spice up their story, it could have some negative consequences for the political process."

While violent metaphors mainly affect those who have naturally more aggressive personalities, the team sees this discovery helping everyone be more unified.

"If we can help citizens understand how they're influenced, they can be more deliberative, thoughtful, and careful in their political rhetoric in talking with friends and family, and working at the local and national level of politics," said Wood.
-end-


Brigham Young University

Related Language Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

How effective are language learning apps?
Researchers from Michigan State University recently conducted a study focusing on Babbel, a popular subscription-based language learning app and e-learning platform, to see if it really worked at teaching a new language.

Chinese to rise as a global language
With the continuing rise of China as a global economic and trading power, there is no barrier to prevent Chinese from becoming a global language like English, according to Flinders University academic Dr Jeffrey Gil.

'She' goes missing from presidential language
MIT researchers have found that although a significant percentage of the American public believed the winner of the November 2016 presidential election would be a woman, people rarely used the pronoun 'she' when referring to the next president before the election.

How does language emerge?
How did the almost 6000 languages of the world come into being?

New research quantifies how much speakers' first language affects learning a new language
Linguistic research suggests that accents are strongly shaped by the speaker's first language they learned growing up.

Why the language-ready brain is so complex
In a review article published in Science, Peter Hagoort, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University and director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, argues for a new model of language, involving the interaction of multiple brain networks.

Do as i say: Translating language into movement
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a computer model that can translate text describing physical movements directly into simple computer-generated animations, a first step toward someday generating movies directly from scripts.

Learning language
When it comes to learning a language, the left side of the brain has traditionally been considered the hub of language processing.

Learning a second alphabet for a first language
A part of the brain that maps letters to sounds can acquire a second, visually distinct alphabet for the same language, according to a study of English speakers published in eNeuro.

Read More: Language News and Language Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.