AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Listen to any political speech long enough, and there’s a good chance you’ll eventually hear some “political BS.” These generally meaningless phrases seem to say nothing and everything at the same time — like “to politically lead the people means to always fight for them.” Now, a new study finds certain voters appear to be more receptive to the fluff politicians throw out there, especially if they’re more right-wing in their opinions.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam found that right-wing and conservative-leaning voters respond more to what the team officially calls “political bullshit.” Specifically, study authors say neoliberals are the most receptive to meaningless political jargon. Neoliberalism favors policies that promote free-market capitalism, deregulation, and less government spending.
The team notes that misinformation, lies, fact-checks, information overloads, and political BS have all increased in the digital age.
“Politicians tell things that seem to mean nothing and everything at the same time,” the authors explain in a university release. “For example, when politicians state to ‘believe in people or country,’ or ‘promise to fight for a better future.’ Such very vague statements we often see during political elections and political campaigns.”
‘It is vague, abstract, and essentially meaningless’
The researchers developed a series of tests to examine this odd political phenomenon and its connection to certain political ideologies — including neoliberalism and populism. They conducted these exams in the Netherlands, Serbia, and the United States.
One test included 10 sentences, with participants rating how persuasive they were. One of these statements was “To politically lead the people means to always fight for them.”
“Though the sentence looks as if it conveys something, it is not clear what it means to fight for people,” study authors say. “It is vague, abstract, and essentially meaningless, as every political bullshit is.”
The second test included five slogans related to elections in the fictitious country of Gonfel. These included sayings such as “For better and stronger Gonfel!” Despite being a seemingly powerful line, researchers ask what does it actually mean for a country to be better and stronger?
Finally, the team looked at three long political programs related to Gonfel that did not appear to have any sensible meaning. Results show each test successfully created some form of measurement for “political bullshit.”
“Although the term could be controversial, our research suggests that the concept of political bullshit exists and can be measured,” study authors write. “In the U.S., the Netherlands, and all countries combined, increased receptivity to political bullshit was associated with a higher probability to vote for right-wing candidates/parties. Especially neoliberals are more receptive to these statements.”
Every party has their own brand of BS
Although the researchers found a link between vague political ramblings and more right-wing beliefs, the team notes that their study doesn’t reveal which political parties use “political BS” more.
“We do assume though, that every party or candidate use such expressions, because of the structural requirements of politics and political communication,” the team concludes.
The findings appear in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology.