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Costly Values: The Limited Benefits and Potential Costs of Targeted Policy Justifications

  • Erik Peterson (a1) and Gabor Simonovits (a2)

Can politicians use targeted messages to offset position taking that would otherwise reduce their public support? We examine the effect of a politician’s justification for their tax policy stance on public opinion and identify limits on the ability of justifications to generate leeway for incongruent position taking on this issue. We draw on political communication research to establish expectations about the heterogeneous effects of justifications that employ either evidence or values based on whether or not constituents agree with the position a politician takes. In two survey experiments, we find small changes in support in response to these types of messages among targeted groups, but rule out large benefits for politicians to selectively target policy justifications toward subsets of the public. We also highlight a potential cost to selective messaging by showing that when these targeted messages reach unintended audiences they can backfire and reduce a candidate’s support.

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Journal of Experimental Political Science
  • ISSN: 2052-2630
  • EISSN: 2052-2649
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Peterson and Simonovits supplementary material 1

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