Wednesday July 15, 2020

The politics of language, put to the test

A quantitative text analysis of all programmes for government since 1997 reveals that, on the whole, the 2020 document has internalised changing voter demands

28th June, 2020
It took extensive negotiations before Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan, the Green leader, could sign off on the new programme for government. The words used in the document signify to voters what they can expect from the coalition government. Picture: Maxwells

We are prisoners of the words we use, so we’d better choose them wisely. That’s a play on a quote by Giovanni Sartori, the late Italian political scientist, who specialised in the study of democratisation and comparative politics.

The context of the quote was his concern with concept stretching. This is what happens when political scientists overstretch the use of a term, such that it becomes meaningless. Populism is arguably one...

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