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Title Politicians’ Use of Uncivil and Simplified Communication: Decreasing Political Trust, Increasing Persuasive Power?
Post date 02/08/2019
C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale

In recent years, concerns have been raised repeatedly about the simplified and disrespectful way in which politicians often express their ideas (Massaro & Stryker, 2012; Zarefsky, 1992). This political communication style runs counter to democratic virtues such as well-justified arguments and respectful interactions. Its use is therefore problematic from a normative point of view, yet there are indications that it is an effective communication style to persuade citizens.

The goal of the present project is to investigate this tension and study the effects of politicians’ uncivil and simplified debating style on 1) citizens’ level of trust in politics, and 2) politicians’ effectiveness to persuade citizens. We expect to find tensions as communication styles that are effective for politicians to persuade voters might not be beneficial to the evaluation of trustworthiness of the politician and political system (see e.g. Mutz & Reeves, 2005). Moreover, we expect these relationships to be moderated by individual level characteristics such as political cynicism and education level (see below, and see preregistration analysis plan for more details, pp. 4-7).

References
Massaro, T. M., & Stryker, R. (2012). Freedom of Speech, Liberal Democracy, and Emerging Evidence on Civility and Effective Democratic Engagement. Arizona Law Review, 54(2), pp. 375-441.
Mutz, D., & Reeves, B. (2005). The New Videomalaise: Effects of Televised Incivility on Political Trust. American Political Science Review, 99(1), pp. 1-15.
Zarefsky, D. (1992). Spectator Politics and the Revival of Public Argument. Communication Monographs, 59(4), pp. 411-414.

C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?

Main effects: First, we look at the effects of incivility and simplification separately:
H1a: Politicians’ use of uncivil language leads to lower levels of trust in politics than civil language.
H1b: Politicians’ use of uncivil language is more effective to persuade citizens than civil language.

H2a: Politicians’ use of simplified arguments leads to lower levels of trust in politics than well-justified arguments.
H2b: Politicians’ use of simplified arguments is more effective to persuade citizens than well-justified arguments.

Second, the tension we expect to observe might be stronger when both elements are present in one political speech. In other words, we do not only compare uncivil versus civil communication, and simplified versus well-justified communication. We also compare political communication that is both uncivil and simplified to communication that is both civil and well-justified. The reason is that we expect effects to be stronger when politicians use a debating style that is both uncivil and simplified, because this means that politicians violate social norms twice:
H3a: Politicians’ combined use of uncivil language and simplified arguments leads to lower levels of trust in politics than civil language and well-justified arguments.
H3b: Politicians’ combined use of uncivil language and simplified arguments is more effective to persuade citizens than civil language and well-justified arguments.

Moderating effects:
We expect political cynicism, perspective inclusiveness, political sophistication, populist attitudes, education level, opinion sharing, and conflict avoidance to moderate these effects. The first two moderators are of central importance to our study and will be included in a paper resulting from this survey experiment. The other 5 moderators will be analyzed to gather insights for the broader project on how the relationship between incivility/simplification and political trust/persuasive power works. These 5 moderators are not the central focus of the paper that will result from this experiment, and will - if included - only be included as an additional check in appendix. They might however become part of an additional paper focusing more extensively on the moderating impact of these variables in the relationship between incivility/simplification and political trust/persuasive power.

Political Cynicism
H4a: The effect of incivility and simplification on political trust is weaker for the more politically cynical.
H4b: The effect of incivility and simplification on persuasive power is stronger for the more politically cynical.

Perspective Inclusiveness (= level of importance citizens attach to the inclusion and discussion of different perspectives in political debate)
H5a: The effect of incivility and simplification on political trust is stronger for citizens who highly value perspective inclusiveness.
H5b: The effect of incivility and simplification on persuasive power is weaker for citizens who highly value perspective inclusiveness.

Education Level
H6a: The effect of incivility and simplification on political trust is weaker for citizens with low education levels.
H6b: The effect of incivility and simplification on persuasive power is stronger for citizens with low education levels.

Political Sophistication
H7a: The effect of incivility and simplification on political trust is stronger for the more politically sophisticated.
H7b: The effect of incivility and simplification on persuasive power is weaker for the politically sophisticated.

Populist Attitudes
H8a: The effect of incivility and simplification on political trust is weaker for citizens with high populist attitude levels.
H8b: The effect of incivility and simplification on persuasive power is stronger for citizens with high populist attitude levels.

Opinion Sharing
H9a: The effect of incivility and simplification on political trust is weaker for citizens who share the politician’s opinion.
H9b: The effect of incivility and simplification on persuasive power is stronger for citizens who share the politician’s opinion.

Conflict Approach/Avoidance
H10a: The effect of incivility on political trust is stronger for citizens with high conflict avoidance levels.
H10b: The effect of incivility on persuasive power is weaker for citizens with high conflict avoidance levels.

C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? *

A between subjects online survey experiment with four conditions – 2 (civil vs. uncivil) x 2 (simplified vs. well-justified) – is designed to test these hypotheses. Participants are randomly assigned to one of these conditions. In each condition participants are asked to listen to a fictional fragment from a political debate. Two politicians are debating each other. The communication style of one politician is manipulated across each condition:
Condition 1: Politician debates in a civil and well-justified way
Condition 2: Politician debates in an uncivil and well-justified way
Condition 3: Politician debates in a civil and simplified way
Condition 4: Politician debates in an uncivil and simplified way

To test hypotheses 1a and 1b, conditions 1 and 2 are compared.
To test hypotheses 2a and 2b, conditions 1 and 3 are compared.
To test hypotheses 3a and 3b, conditions 1 and 4 are compared.
ANOVAs are used to test all hypotheses. Interaction effects are added to the model to investigate moderation effects (hypotheses 4 – 10).

C4 Country Belgium
C5 Scale (# of Units) Pilot: N=100 Survey experiment: N=1100
C6 Was a power analysis conducted prior to data collection? Yes
C7 Has this research received Insitutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee approval? Yes
C8 IRB Number G- 2017 08 879
C9 Date of IRB Approval 18/08/2017
C10 Will the intervention be implemented by the researcher or a third party? Researchers
C11 Did any of the research team receive remuneration from the implementing agency for taking part in this research? not provided by authors
C12 If relevant, is there an advance agreement with the implementation group that all results can be published? not provided by authors
C13 JEL Classification(s) not provided by authors
Anonymous Documentation PDF icon 20190208AA_PAP_anonymous_20190819.pdf