Democratization and Linguistic Complexity: The Effect of Franchise Extension on Parliamentary Discourse, 1832-1915

Arthur Spirling

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    We consider the impact of the Second Reform Act, and the doubling of the electorate it delivered, on the linguistic complexity of speeches made by members of parliament in Britain. Noting that the new voters were generally poorer and less educated than those who already enjoyed the suffrage, we hypothesize that cabinet ministers had strong incentives-relative to other members-to appeal to these new electors with simpler statements during parliamentary debates. We assess this claim with a data set of over half a million speeches for the period between the Great Reform Act and Great War, along with methods for measuring the comprehensibility of texts-which we validate in some detail. The theorized relationship holds: ministers become statistically significantly easier to understand (on average) relative to backbenchers, and this effect occurs almost immediately after the 1868 election. We show that this result is not an artifact of new personnel in the House of Commons.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)120-136
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Politics
    Volume78
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jan 2016

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science

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