The Role of Elite Accounts in Mitigating the Negative Effects of Repositioning
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Repositioning by political elites plays a key role in a variety of political phenomena, including legislative policymaking and campaigning. While previous studies suggest that repositioning will lead to negative evaluations, these studies have not explored the role of elite communications in structuring mass responses. We argue that this omission is problematic because elite explanations for their actions may limit the costs associated with ‘flip-flopping’ by persuading some citizens to update their attitudes so that they agree with the elite’s new stance and also by molding beliefs about the motives of the elite when repositioning. We present evidence supportive of this argument obtained from two large experiments conducted on samples of American adults. Ultimately, we show that elites offering a satisfactory justification for their change can avoid most, if not all, of the evaluative costs that would otherwise occur. This study thus has important implications not just for this particular element of elite behavior, but also related questions concerning governmental accountability and representation.
KeywordsExplanation Repositioning Communication Persuasion Motives
I thank Jamie Druckman, Thomas Leeper, Martin Bisgaard, Jennifer Jerit, Jason Barabas, participants in the Political Behavior Workshop at Aarhus University, and two anonymous reviewers for their incisive comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. This article is better for their feedback; all remaining errors remain my own. Study 1 was funded via a Graduate Research Grant from Northwestern University.
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