Word monsters and tapeworm sentences – election programs incomprehensible according to the study


With election programs, parties want to retain their members and convince new voters. The will may be there, but those who want to deal with the election programs of the parties for the federal election often fail because of the language hurdle. Also this year, according to a study in Stuttgart, the texts from the party headquarters are more extensive than ever before – but they are also more difficult to understand than hardly any other in West German history.

In the programs for the upcoming election, according to the study authors, there were monstrous words and tapeworm sentences with up to 79 words, such as the Stuttgart University of Hohenheim announced. “The comprehensibility of the election programs often leaves a lot to be desired,” says communication scientist Frank Brettschneider, summarizing the results of the study. “Only in 1994 were the programs on average even more incomprehensible.”

For the analysis, Brettschneider’s team used software for complicated words and nested sentences. The analysis is part of a long-term project in which, since the federal election in 1949, all 83 election programs of the parties represented in the German Bundestag or in three state parliaments have been examined.

Another result: “Electoral programs are getting longer and longer,” explains Brettschneider. In the first federal election in 1949, the parties still formulated their plans with an average of 5,498 words, now there are 43,541 words per program – eight times as many. The traditional front runners, the Greens, will be replaced by the Left Party in the longest election manifesto this year. The AfD and the SPD presented the shortest programs.

But the AfD’s program has the longest tapeworm set. Untouched words such as “source telecommunications monitoring” (FDP, Linke) and technical terms such as “cell broadcasting technology” (CDU / CSU), “cybergrooming” (Greens) or “life chain” (SPD) are widely spread across party lines . According to the “Hohenheim Comprehensibility Index”, the party’s election manifesto is the most formally understandable, with the Greens in last place. “This is the party’s most formally incomprehensible election manifesto since 1983,” criticized Brettschneider.

The results are even worse than in the most recent federal election in 2017. “That is disappointing,” says Brettschneider. “Because all parties have made transparency and closeness to the citizen their flag in recent years.” With their “sometimes difficult to digest election programs”, however, they excluded a considerable part of the electorate.

What could be the problem? Are parties unaware of the gibberish? Successful passages in the introductions and understandable final parts of the programs showed that parties could formulate more understandably, says the Stuttgart linguist. “The topic chapters are, however, the result of internal party expert rounds. Most of them are not even aware that the majority of voters do not understand their technical jargon. We call this the” curse of knowledge, “he says.

“Mischief does not become correct when it is formulated in a formally understandable way”

Claudia Thoms, Hohenheim comprehensibility researcher, criticizes foreign and technical terms as well as compound words and anglicisms. The Greens are talking about a “fact-finding mission” when they want to get an idea on site. The CDU / CSU promotes an “Agri-FoodTech venture capital fund”, the AfD formulates the “supranational remigration agenda” and the party Die Linke knows an “antiziganism”. “Edge Computing” (SPD) and “Carbon Leakage Protection” (FDP) are also incomprehensible. “In addition, long, compound words do not exactly make the election programs more legible,” warns Thoms. Or do you not stumble across the “high-speed rail traffic” (CDU / CSU) or the “debt structuring process” (Greens)?

Of course, the content is always more important than the language, says Brettschneider. “Mischief does not become correct when it is formulated in a form that is understandable.” Formal incomprehensibility, however, is a hurdle when content should be understood. “Parties are wasting a communication opportunity here.”