Ripping Yarn: Experiments on Storytelling by Partisan Elites

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Abstract

This article explores the role of personalized storytelling by partisan elites using a content analysis and two experiments. By personalized storytelling, I mean a political message in the form of a narrative that includes a specific reference to an individual affected by an issue. Using a content analysis of party convention speeches, this article shows that presidential candidates tell an increasing amount of stories, particularly from 1980 onward. Through randomized Internet experiments and a general population sample, I demonstrate that personalized stories have a unique influence on the public by parsing out the independent causal effect of the storyteller’s partisanship, the personalization of the story, and the content of the story. Not only can stories change attitudes about issues, but personalized stories can also change how individuals evaluate the candidate telling the story. However, an impersonal story that only references a generic group, rather than a singular individual, does not improve the partisan storyteller’s favorability. Results suggest that modern presidential candidates might be motivated to tell more stories because personalizing an issue may improve their standing with the public.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-238
Number of pages19
JournalPolitical Communication
Volume35
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 3 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science

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