Liberal and Conservative Representations of the Good Society: A (Social) Structural Topic Modeling Approach

Joanna Sterling, John T. Jost, Curtis D. Hardin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What, in the 21st century, is our vision of the “good society,” and what are the obstacles to its realization? What is the ideal mix of equality and tradition, individual initiative and social welfare, economic prosperity and environmental responsibility, national unity and respect for diversity? Research suggests that liberals and conservatives differ considerably in the prioritization of these values, but nearly all of this research makes use of closed-ended responses to questionnaire items. To examine ideological similarities and dissimilarities in value expression and social representation when it comes to relatively open-ended communication in online social media networks, we used quantitative text-analytic methods to analyze more than 3.8 million messages sent by over 1 million Twitter users about what constitutes a good (vs. bad) society. Results revealed a fairly high degree of ideological divergence: Liberals were more likely to raise themes of social justice, global inequality, women’s rights, racism, criminal justice, health care, poverty, progress, social change, personal growth, and environmental sustainability, whereas conservatives were more likely to mention religion, social order, business, capitalism, national symbols, immigration, and terrorism, as well as individual authorities and news organizations. There were also some areas of convergence: Liberals, moderates, and conservatives were equally likely to prioritize economic prosperity, family, community, and the pursuit of health, happiness, and freedom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSAGE Open
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • communication
  • mass communication
  • media and society
  • political communication
  • political ideology
  • political polarization
  • social cognition
  • social sciences
  • values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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