Disagreeable Rhetoric and the Prospect of Public Opposition: Opinion Moderation on the U.S. Supreme Court

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6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Elite rhetoric is an important aspect of democracy, and understanding why elites alter their rhetorical tone is vital to understanding the nature of public–elite interaction. In this paper, we identify the conditions under which insulated elites respond to public opinion by changing the amount of disagreeable rhetoric they emphasize. We examine Supreme Court opinions and theorize that the majority limits the use of disagreeable rhetoric—language with harsh, unpleasant, or negative connotations—in salient cases with the intention of dulling public opposition to rulings. We test our expectations on two levels, the first using a broad measure of public mood on a large sample of cases and the second using a small sample with issue-specific public opinion measures. We find that as public opinion diverges from the Court, the majority tones down its disagreeable rhetoric, but only in salient cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-394
Number of pages15
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Volume71
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © 2017 University of Utah.

Keywords

  • Supreme Court
  • disagreeable rhetoric
  • public opinion
  • text analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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