The Effect of Language on Political Appeal: Results from a Survey Experiment in Thailand
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Politicians have long engaged in marketing themselves by employing distinct speaking styles to signal social standing, competence, or a shared background with their audience. What effect does this use of different language appeals have on voter opinion? Utilizing a survey experiment in Thailand, I test a set of hypotheses about the effect of language on respondent opinions. Relying on three distinct treatments, a formal language register, an informal language register, and an ethnic language, I demonstrate the multiple effects of language on political appeal. The use of a formal register has mixed effects, signaling both high education as well as preparation for national office while also creating social distance between the speaker and audience. An informal register and the ethnic tongue both signal kinship ties to listeners, with the ethnic tongue having a much more profound effect. The results also show that an ethnic overture has greater electoral appeal than formal speech. These findings highlight the causal effect language has in shaping political opinions and illustrate the varied impacts of linguistic hierarchies on political appeal.
KeywordsLanguage politics Ethnicity Political communication Southeast Asia Thailand
Thanks go to the College of Local Administration and the Social Survey Research Center at Khon Kaen University. Supawatanakorn Wongthanavasu, Peerasit Kamnuansilpa, and Narong Kiettikunwong deserve special mention for their assistance in developing the project. I’m grateful for helpful comments from the participants of SEAREG 2016, a panel at MPSA 2016, and the 2017 Election and Participation in Southeast Asia Conference at National Chengchi University. Those who commented on the paper are too numerous to mention individually, but you each have my gratitude. Thanks also go to the editor and reviewers. This research was conducted with the support of a Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) Academic Research Fund (AcRF) Tier 1 grant (Project No. C242/MSS15S008). The data and replication code for this paper is housed on the Political Behavior Dataverse page ( https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/ZX4HGA).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This research was conducted according to ethical standards of the Singapore Management University institutional review board. Informed consent was obtained from all respondents. Singapore Management University IRB Approval Number: IRB-15-076-A085 (1015).
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