A few kind words could help politicians win elections

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom

A few kind words could help politicians win elections

Public approval of the U. S. Congress has been at an all-time low in recent years, hovering around 15% in opinion polls. What could representatives do to boost their numbers? A new study suggests that a few kind words towards fellow citizens could make all the difference. Researchers’ computers analyzed all 123,927,807 words spoken during sessions of the House of Representatives between 1996 and 2014 using publicly available online transcripts and matched them against a dictionary of 127 words or word stems with “prosocial” meanings—that is, words that connoted kindness or cooperation. The team found that the more members of Congress who  used such words overall, the higher the approval ratings Congress received in polls 6 months later. And, as the researchers report online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even a little nastiness could be devastating to congressional popularity. Thus, a 19% decrease in prosocial language routinely led to a 75% drop in approval ratings. (The researchers controlled for external events that might affect the results, such as the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks or the economic crisis of 2008.) The team suggests two possible ways that the public learns how nice their representatives are being: Directly, by watching C-SPAN (which 57% of the voting population does at least once per week), or indirectly, through news media coverage of congressional sessions. Which words led to the biggest approval increases? Gentle, involve, educate, contribute, concerned, give, tolerate, trust, and, of course, cooperate. Politicians, take heed!