The Breakdown: The Linguistics of Politicians and Voter Perceptions

Is a bellicose, abrasive style of politician becoming more popular? It isn’t only happening in the U.S. It can also be seen internationally

Have you ever thought about the way we say things and how that can completely change the way people look at us?

For example, a casually-dressed person saying “thank you for being with us on the Breakdown” can easily be translated to “thank you for taking the time to join us on the Breakdown” by the same person in a more formal outfit.

Same person. Same message. Entirely different perception.

Politicians spend a lot of time tailoring how they say things, and that’s why some people tend to gravitate to those politicians who don’t really sound like politicians.

When you hear the word politician, what are some of the character traits that come to mind? Political psychologist Dr. Bart Rossi says some think of underhanded individuals or manipulators.

“You know, they all say that so I’m going to vote for this guy anyway,” Rossi said.

For instance, when you look at the 2016 election, Donald Trump can be seen doing things that are seemingly unprecedented. Like when he shunned a reported after learning they were with CNN, saying “you’re the worst.”

For context, it’s not just President Trump that doesn’t necessarily talk like a politician. Back in 2010 when Chris Christie was running for Governor of New Jersey, using that same tactic made him wildly popular. Richard Nixon also did he same to a degree.

“A lot of his supporters like that he’s brash, bold, the authoritarian personality,” Rossi said. “A guy who says it like he thinks it should be said.”

So, why are constituents drawn to that? Does it convey a certain sense of trust?

“The why here is the most important question because it relates to the voter’s belief system. They pitch to a certain group that’s out there. If you can pitch to enough people and get half of the vote you can win,” Rossi said.

It’s almost like a math equation to the logical side of the human brain. If voters think politicians aren’t trustworthy, then that must mean those who don’t act like politicians are probably more authentic and relatable.

Dr. Rossi says “that’s really not the case.”

Even if voters think it is, some politicians however, know it to be an unspoken fact. As a result, some politicians have used and emulated this tactic to their advantage.

Is this bellicose, abrasive style of politician becoming more popular? It isn’t only happening in the United States. It can also be seen internationally.

Boris Johnson over in the United Kingdom uses it and so does Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

“It is catching on internationally because of the reasons we just mentioned.” Rossi said. “You can pitch to a certain group of people. If you get half of the people pretty much in line with you, you’re going to win, even if the other half of the people really don’t like you.”

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