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Comparing public communication in democracies and autocracies: automated text analyses of speeches by heads of government

Journal article
Authors Seraphine Maerz
Carsten Q. Schneider
Published in Quality and Quantity
ISSN 0033-5177
Publication year 2019
Published at
Language en
Keywords Democratic backsliding, Dictionary, Political speeches of autocrats and democrats, Qualities of democracy, Text-as-data, Topic models
Subject categories Political Science


© 2019, Springer Nature B.V. Renewed efforts at empirically distinguishing between different forms of political regimes leave out the cultural dimension. In this article, we demonstrate how modern computational tools can be used to fill this gap. We employ web-scraping techniques to generate a data set of speeches by heads of government in European democracies and autocratic regimes around the globe. Our data set includes 4740 speeches delivered between 1999 and 2019 by 40 political leaders of 27 countries. By scaling the results of a dictionary application, we show how, in comparative terms, liberal or illiberal the leaders present themselves to their national and international audience. In order to gauge whether our liberalness scale reveals meaningful distinctions, we perform a series of validity tests: criterion validity, qualitative hand-coding, unsupervised topic modeling, and network analysis. All tests suggest that our liberalness scale does capture meaningful differences between political regimes despite the large heterogeneity of our data.

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