Speaking Different Languages or Reading from the Same Script? Word Usage of Democratic and Republican Politicians

Jayme L. Neiman, Frank J. Gonzalez, Kevin Wilkinson, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Hibbing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Words are believed to be indicators of the values that are important to politicians and an impressive amount of empirical research has analyzed variations in language use. While it is generally accepted that there are value differences between Democrats and Republicans, the extent to which these differences are reflected in word usage has been theorized but is largely untested. The connection between values and language is, theoretically, not limited just to politicians, but should be especially evident among politicians as representatives of existing ideological poles. In this article, we examine elite rhetoric through the lens of four value-centered theoretical frameworks (Lakoff’s Parenting Styles model, Moral Foundations Theory, Schwartz’s Values Theory, and Motivated Social Cognition Theory). Contrary to the expectations posited by these four theories, we find little reliable evidence of value-related language differences between Democratic and Republican politicians. Our findings suggest that, at least when it comes to elite rhetoric, widely accepted theoretical claims about the value-based nature of political language and political differences are not consistently supported by empirical analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-240
Number of pages29
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Lakoff
  • elites
  • language
  • moral foundations
  • values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Speaking Different Languages or Reading from the Same Script? Word Usage of Democratic and Republican Politicians'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this