Heresthetics in ballot proposition arguments
An investigation of California citizen initiative rhetoric
Political actors typically use language with the goal of persuading an audience. But what shapes the use of language in political settings? Is it differences between ideologues — liberals and conservatives — that change language use? Or is it support or opposition to the issue? Using techniques adapted from cognitive psychology we examine arguments used in ballot proposition elections and show them to exhibit systematic patterns in line with the theoretical arguments of Riker (1996). The actor’s choice of issue position — for or against — can be seen to imply that the arguments they advance in support of their position are constrained. More specifically, we show that arguments in support of propositions are consistently similar to each other and consistently dissimilar from arguments against a proposal in language use. These patterns of similarity and dissimilarity persist across a wide range of issues and actors. Identification of these patterns helps explain a persistent empirical regularity within ballot proposition politics: the advantage held by “NO” campaigns.
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