Title: Message Distortion as a Campaign Strategy: Does Rival Party Distortion of Focal Party Position Affect Voters?
Zeynep Somer-Topcu (UT-Austin) and Margit Tavits (Washinton University, St. Louis)
Abstract: Do voters understand party positions? A growing literature is interested in answering this question but has limited its focus on parties’ own policy messages. In real life, parties are engaged in constant exchange with their rivals about their policy positions, which creates possibilities for partisan rivals to misconstrue each other’s policy messages. Using experimental and large-scale cross-national data, we show that such message distortion by rival parties significantly moves voters’ perceptions away from where the party locates itself and toward the distorted position. Furthermore, contrary to expectations from the literature on partisan motivated reasoning, this effect holds for all voters, regardless of whether they support the rival party, the focal party, or neither. These findings have important implications for our understanding of voter perceptions, partisan bias, and party strategies.
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