DOI: 10.1177/13540688231195272 ISSN:

Ambiguity and vagueness in party competition

Katrin Praprotnik, Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik
  • Sociology and Political Science

A central theme emerging from recent research on party competition is that political actors sometimes remain deliberately opaque in their communication. This phenomenon has been investigated under labels such as position-blurring, ambiguity, issue clarity or ideological clarity. In this paper we propose a distinction between two concepts that are sometimes conflated in this literature: ambiguity and vagueness. While ambiguity means that there is substantial variance in parties' positional signals, vagueness denotes political statements that are non-committal in terms of the policy action to be taken or the outcome to be achieved. We explore the co-variation of these two dimensions and their relationship to issue ownership and government status using manifesto data produced by the Austrian National Election Study. These data are unique in that they provide detailed positional information as well as information on policy commitment (election pledges). We show that the two dimensions are uncorrelated and have opposite relationships with issue ownership (vagueness positive, ambiguity negative). We conclude that analyses of position-blurring in party competition should take different strategies of non-clarity in party communication into account.

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