Dr. Kerri Milita recently published an article in the Journal of Politics. The article examines how the clarity of candidate rhetoric on the campaign trail influences voter beliefs about said candidate’s leadership traits. She finds that a candidate’s rhetorical strategy, that is the extent to which the candidate speaks clearly or ambiguously, is of the utmost importance for social and cultural issues that represent core beliefs and values.

Furthermore, in contrast to conventional wisdom, taking an unclear (i.e. ambiguous) stance on an issue does not shield elected officials from public backlash if they eventually undertake a policy action that voters disagree with. In other words, it was traditionally believed that ambiguous issue positions let candidates get away with flip flopping; because you cannot break a promise that you never made. However, this study shows that voters are still able to see through unclear messaging and to hold elected officials accountable for their policy promises.