The effects of neutral versus value-laden concepts on public attitudes

Viðar Halldórsson


Politicians deliver their messages through the use of language with the intention of creating public support for their ideas and actions. Politicians, therefore, apply certain concepts, in preference to others, to mark certain phenomena in a specific way in the common discourse. Therefore, concepts utilized by politicians need to be analyzed critically from a sociological and political perspective. This paper is built on a political discourse analysis of the strategic “normalization” of political concepts by Icelandic politicians. The Social Science Research Institute at the University of Iceland conducted a questionnaire survey on the attitudes of Icelanders towards three debated issues in contemporary Icelandic society: the legitimization of casinos, ways to finance major road constructions, and new laws on the abortion rights of women. To account for the effects of the politicians’ utilization of concepts, half of the respondents received a question with a “neutral” concept and the other half got a question with a “value-laden” concept on each of the issues. The hypotheses assumed that the more neutral concepts would gain more general support than the more value-laden concepts. The results indicate that the attitudes towards the three issues were mixed and, furthermore, that the use of different concepts does not seem to make much of a difference, since only one hypothesis was supported, whereas the other two were rejected. It can also be argued that the circulation of concepts and the conceptual literacy of the public are important issues in this context.


Sociology of knowledge; political discourse; normalization; conceptual literacy.

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