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Extracting Policy Positions from Political Texts Using Words as Data

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 August 2003

MICHAEL LAVER
Affiliation:
work on this paper was carried out while he was a Government of Ireland Senior Research Fellow in Political Science, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Dublin, Ireland (mlaver@tcd.ie).
KENNETH BENOIT
Affiliation:
work on this paper was completed while he was a Government of Ireland Research Fellow in Political Science, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Dublin, Ireland (kbenoit@tcd.ie).
JOHN GARRY
Affiliation:
Lecturer in the Politics Department, University of Reading, White Knights Reading, Berkshire RG6 6AH, UK (j.a.garry@reading.ac.uk).

Abstract

We present a new way of extracting policy positions from political texts that treats texts not as discourses to be understood and interpreted but rather, as data in the form of words. We compare this approach to previous methods of text analysis and use it to replicate published estimates of the policy positions of political parties in Britain and Ireland, on both economic and social policy dimensions. We “export” the method to a non-English-language environment, analyzing the policy positions of German parties, including the PDS as it entered the former West German party system. Finally, we extend its application beyond the analysis of party manifestos, to the estimation of political positions from legislative speeches. Our “language-blind” word scoring technique successfully replicates published policy estimates without the substantial costs of time and labor that these require. Furthermore, unlike in any previous method for extracting policy positions from political texts, we provide uncertainty measures for our estimates, allowing analysts to make informed judgments of the extent to which differences between two estimated policy positions can be viewed as significant or merely as products of measurement error.We thank Raj Chari, Gary King, Michael McDonald, Gail McElroy, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on drafts of this paper.

Type
ARTICLES
Copyright
© 2003 by the American Political Science Association

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