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Testing the Validity of Automatic Speech Recognition for Political Text Analysis

  • Sven-Oliver Proksch (a1), Christopher Wratil (a1) (a2) and Jens Wäckerle (a1)

The analysis of political texts from parliamentary speeches, party manifestos, social media, or press releases forms the basis of major and growing fields in political science, not least since advances in “text-as-data” methods have rendered the analysis of large text corpora straightforward. However, a lot of sources of political speech are not regularly transcribed, and their on-demand transcription by humans is prohibitively expensive for research purposes. This class includes political speech in certain legislatures, during political party conferences as well as television interviews and talk shows. We showcase how scholars can use automatic speech recognition systems to analyze such speech with quantitative text analysis models of the “bag-of-words” variety. To probe results for robustness to transcription error, we present an original “word error rate simulation” (WERSIM) procedure implemented in $R$ . We demonstrate the potential of automatic speech recognition to address open questions in political science with two substantive applications and discuss its limitations and practical challenges.

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Authors’ note: We are grateful to Leonie Diffené, Felix Reich and Pit Rieger for their excellent research assistance. We are also very thankful for helpful comments on earlier versions of this work by two anonymous reviewers as well as Jeff Gill. Christopher Wratil would like to acknowledge funding by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung ( All remaining errors are our own. The replication files for this article are available on the Political Analysis Dataverse (Proksch, Wratil, and Wäckerle 2018).

Contributing Editor: Jeff Gill

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Political Analysis
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