The Strategic Use of Counterfactual Communication in Politics

Patrizia Catellani, Venusia Covelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While counterfactual thinking has been widely investigated, we know much less about how counterfactual ("If ... then") statements are employed in political communication. We analysed statements made by politicians during pre-electoral televised broadcasts, to assess whether politicians employ counterfactuals in facework. Counterfactuals were coded according to their direction, controllability, and structure. Log-linear analysis revealed that upward, controllable, and additive counterfactuals were more frequent than downward, uncontrollable, and subtractive counterfactuals, respectively. A significant three-way interaction between target, direction, and controllability also emerged. While politicians more often employed upward controllable counterfactuals when speaking about targets other than themselves, they more often used downward controllable and upward uncontrollable counterfactuals when referring to themselves. These findings advance our knowledge of how counterfactuals are employed by politicians to promote their positive face and aggravate the face of adversaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)480-489
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


  • counterfactual communication
  • facework
  • political discourse
  • self-presentation
  • televised broadcasts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Language and Linguistics


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