Working papers

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.

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Reining in the Rascals: Challenger Parties' Path to Power

With Jacob Nyrup and Martin Vinæs Larsen

Challenger parties, i.e. parties without prior government experience, have transformed politics in Europe and beyond, some eventually joining governing coalitions. However, the process by which challenger parties gain access to power remains unclear. We argue that holding elected office in itself improves challenger parties' chances of entering government. We find support for this expectation in cross-sectional, national-level data. To establish causality, we apply a regression discontinuity design to an original data set of more than 2,500 elections and 15,000 committee assignments from local governments in Denmark. We show that legislative incumbency increases challenger parties' access to government in the following electoral term. Lastly, using data from candidate surveys, we show that incumbent challenger parties take more moderate positions and use more mainstream language, consistent with a moderation mechanism. Our findings shed new light on the causes of challenger party success and, more broadly, the centripetal forces driving party system change.

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