A Winning Word Turns the Tide of a Tough Political Battle

With polls in the spring of 2011 showing that voters opposed “raising the debt limit,” Republicans in Congress threatened to default on the national debt in order to extract budget concessions from Democrats. The Hattaway team analyzed the words used by political leaders in national news media, which found that Democrats framed the issue in losing language by repeating the mantra of “raising the debt limit.” We shared our Winning Words linguistic analysis and recommended that Democrats drive a new narrative by reframing the debate around “defaulting on the debt.” The change was quickly adopted by leaders in the White House and on Capitol Hill, leading to a dramatic change in public attitudes. Ultimately, a majority of voters rejected the Republican position and said it was “absolutely essential that the federal debt limit be raised to avoid an economic crisis.”

Hear the National Public Radio interview with Doug Hattaway about this story. 

Read our article in Politico about this story.

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