Working papers

Partisan Conflict in Nonverbal Communication

Revise and resubmit, Political Science Research and Methods

With Mathias Rask

In multiparty systems, parties signal conflict through communication, yet standard approaches to measuring partisan conflict in communication consider only the verbal dimension. We expand the study of partisan conflict to the nonverbal dimension by developing a measure of nonverbal conflict signaling based on variation in speakers' vocal pitch. We demonstrate our approach using comprehensive audio data from parliamentary debates in Denmark spanning more than two decades. We find that nonverbal conflict signals reflect prevailing patterns of partisan polarization and predict subsequent legislative behavior. Moreover, we show that consistent with a strategic model of behavior, nonverbal conflict signals track the electoral and policy incentives faced by legislators. All results persist when we account for the verbal content of speech. By documenting a novel dimension of elite communication of partisan conflict and providing evidence for the strategic use of nonverbal signals, our findings deepen our understanding of the nature of elite partisan communication.

Losing Touch: The Rhetorical Cost of Governing

Governments lose votes over time. This regularity is so well-documented that the ‘cost of governing’ is widely considered a law-like phenomenon. However, our understanding of the causes of the cost of governing is incomplete. This paper presents a novel perspective on this question, considering how rhetorical constraints impose costs on governments. Specifically, I argue that while legislators generally seek to satisfy voter demands for maximal rhetorical simplicity, the functional demands of running government compel legislators to speak less simply when serving in government. This structural condition provides the opposition with a rhetorical advantage vis-à-vis the government, eventually leading to electoral losses for the incumbent government. I refer to this as ‘the rhetorical cost of governing’. I test this theory in the context of the Danish parliament, from which I combine rich data on individual legislator careers with the complete record of parliamentary speech across three decades. Consistent with the theory, legislators speak with reduced simplicity while serving in government. Additional analyses suggest the effect is driven by constraints on government members' issue emphasis. The results add to our understanding of the cost of governing and the drivers of mass grievances fueling populist political movements.

Link to paper