Playing to the Gallery: Emotive Rhetoric in Parliaments
By Moritz Osnabrügge, Durham University, Sara B. Hobolt, London School of Economics and Political Science and Toni Rodon, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Research has shown that emotions matter in politics, but we know less about when and why politicians use emotive rhetoric in the legislative arena. This article argues that emotive rhetoric is one of the tools politicians can use strategically to appeal to voters. Consequently, we expect that legislators are more likely to use emotive rhetoric in debates that have a large general audience. Our analysis covers two million parliamentary speeches held in the UK House of Commons and the Irish Parliament. We use a dictionary-based method to measure emotive rhetoric, combining the Affective Norms for English Words dictionary with word-embedding techniques to create a domain-specific dictionary. We show that emotive rhetoric is more pronounced in high-profile legislative debates, such as Prime Minister’s Questions. These findings contribute to the study of legislative speech and political representation by suggesting that emotive rhetoric is used by legislators to appeal directly to voters.