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The Temporal Focus of Campaign Communication

Experiences from the past and present influence decision-making. Voting behavior at elections also involves retrospective and prospective considerations. Yet, we do not know the degree to which parties react to these considerations by emphasizing the past, present, and future. I posit that parties do not only make promises but face incentives to discuss the past and present. I also expect that incumbency status conditions emotive rhetoric across these temporal dimensions. Using supervised machine learning, I uncover the temporal rhetorical focus in 621 party manifestos published in nine countries between 1949 and 2017. Parties devote, on average, half of a manifesto to future promises, while the other half describes the past and present. I also show that statements on the past and present drive previously observed differences in sentiment between incumbents and opposition parties. The findings underscore how the temporal dimension of campaign communication enhances our understanding of party competition.