How informative and persuasive is simple elite communication?

Eran Amsalem*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In the past two decades, increasing levels of simplicity in political elite rhetoric have drawn both empirical interest and normative concern from political scientists. While conventional wisdom holds that politicians simplify their public communications because "simplicity works," the way citizens respond to such messages has hardly been investigated. This study presents the results of two experiments testing the effects of simplicity on two major goals of elite communication: informing citizens and persuading them. Results show that simple rhetoric has lower informative value for citizens than complex rhetoric, regardless of the issue being addressed and the partisan identity of the speaker. In terms of persuasion, results point to a conditional effect. When a politician addresses a like-minded audience, simplicity sways public opinion. However, when addressing a polarized audience, simple rhetoric is ineffective.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number001
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 21 May 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Eran Amsalem is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel; and the Department of Political Science, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium. The author thanks Meital Balmas, Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom, Shira Dvir-Gvirsman, Shanto Iyengar, Jon Krosnick, Peter Loewen, Lilach Nir, Tamir Sheafer, Lior Sheffer, Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan, Yariv Tsfati, Stefaan Walgrave, Alon Zoizner, the anonymous reviewers, and the journal’s editors for their valuable comments and suggestions. This work was supported by the European Research Council [Advanced Grant “INFOPOL,” 295735] and the Research Fund of the University of Antwerp [Grant 26827]. Stefaan Walgrave (University of Antwerp) is the principal investigator of the INFOPOL project, which has additional teams in Israel (led by Tamir Sheafer) and Canada (led by Stuart Soroka and Peter Loewen). *Address correspondence to Eran Amsalem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Communication, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem 9190501, Israel; email:

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


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