Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



In elections, parties not only state their positions on the left-right ideological spectrum, but they also use rhetorical strategies to frame their messages in convincing ways. However, existing research in comparative party politics does not provide a good understanding of the role that rhetoric plays in party competition. To address this oversight, my dissertation focuses on moral rhetoric, or appeals that frame political issues as fundamental, moral issues about right and wrong. What are the consequences of parties' moral rhetoric on voter behavior? Drawing insights from political and moral psychology, I argue that moral rhetoric can mobilize copartisan voters and that the mobilizing effect occurs because moral rhetoric increases the positive emotions that copartisans have about their partisan preference.

To test the argument, I content analyze party manifestos to measure the overall level of moral rhetoric that parties used in elections and rely on election surveys to measure turnout among copartisan voters. The data cover 61 parties across 18 elections from six English-speaking democracies: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. I find evidence in support of my argument that moral rhetoric mobilizes copartisan voters. I find that the effect exists among copartisans who are likely to have been exposed to party rhetoric (i.e., the politically aware).

I also test the theoretical mechanism through two sets of analyses. First, I conducted survey experiments in Britain and find that messages that contain moral rhetoric activate positive emotions among copartisan voters, compared to messages that contain non-moral, pragmatic rhetoric. Second, I analyze panel data in the 2015 British Election Study and show that voters who held positive emotions about their party have higher probabilities of turnout and political activism compared to voters who did not hold such positive emotions. These analyses also provide the important insight that pride is a moral emotion that is particularly relevant in mediating the link between moral rhetoric and copartisan mobilization.

Taken together, the dissertation provides a novel and rigorous first cut at the role of moral rhetoric in party campaigns. One of the most important contributions of the dissertation is that, by studying how parties explain and justify their positions to voters, it moves the comparative party campaign literature forward, beyond the often singular focus on left-right ideology. My work opens the door to an exciting research trajectory on moral rhetoric and moral representation more broadly.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Margit Tavits

Committee Members

Daniel Butler, Matthew Gabel, Jacob Montgomery, Guillermo Rosas,


Permanent URL:

Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2119