Legislative speech records from the 101st to 108th Congresses of the US Senate are analysed to study political ideologies. A widely-used text classification algorithm – Support Vector Machines (SVM) – allows the extraction of terms that are most indicative of conservative and liberal positions in legislative speeches and the prediction of senators’ ideological positions, with a 92 per cent level of accuracy. Feature analysis identifies the terms associated with conservative and liberal ideologies. The results demonstrate that cultural references appear more important than economic references in distinguishing conservative from liberal congressional speeches, calling into question the common economic interpretation of ideological differences in the US Congress.
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