Estimating policy positions from political texts

Michael Laver, John Garry

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The analysis of policy-based party competition will not make serious progress beyond the constraints of (a) the unitary actor assumption and (b) a static approach to analyzing party competition between elections until a method is available for deriving reliable and valid time-series estimates of the policy positions of large numbers of political actors. Retrospective estimation of these positions in past party systems will require a method for estimating policy positions from political texts. Previous hand-coding content analysis schemes deal with policy emphasis rather than policy positions. We propose a new hand-coding scheme for policy positions, together with a new English language computer-coding scheme that is compatible with this. We apply both schemes to party manifestos from Britain and Ireland in 1992 and 1997 and cross validate the resulting estimates with those derived from quite independent expert surveys and with previous manifesto analyses. There is a high degree of cross validation between coding methods, including computer coding. This implies that it is indeed possible to use computer-coded content analysis to derive reliable and valid estimates of policy positions from political texts. This will allow vast volumes of text to be coded, including texts generated by individuals and other internal party actors, allowing the empirical elaboration of dynamic rather than static models of party competition that move beyond the unitary actor assumption.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)619-634
    Number of pages16
    JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Jul 2000

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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