Medicare for All, Some, or None? Testing the Effects of Ambiguity in the Context of the 2020 Presidential Election

Medicare for All, Some, or None? Testing the Effects of Ambiguity in the Context of the 2020 Presidential Election

By Elizabeth N. Simas, University of Houston

Political scientists have long contemplated whether candidates are better off taking more ambiguous policy positions. Taking advantage of a lack of clarity in Senator Kamala Harris’s healthcare position, I use an original survey experiment to apply these theories to the case of the 2020 presidential election. I find that ambiguity offers Harris little to no advantage over two of her leading Democratic primary opponents and, among certain subjects, harms her relative to Senator Elizabeth Warren. I also find negative effects on Harris’s favorability relative to President Donald Trump. These results have interesting implications for both the 2020 election and the broader study of candidate rhetoric because they illustrate potential downsides to avoiding clear issue statements.

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