From Maastricht to Brexit by Richard Bellamy and Dario Castiglione

Putting the Money Where Your Mouth Is? Comparing the Discourses of (Illiberal) Democrats and Autocrats Using Automated Text Analysis

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Political Leadership
Big Data
Carsten Q. Schneider
Central European University
Carsten Q. Schneider
Central European University
Seraphine Maerz
University of Gothenburg

The democratic backsliding of countries such as Hungary or Poland receives growing attention in political science. As a novel approach for analysis, we compare the public (online) speeches of European heads of government with those of leaders from several authoritarian countries, such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Russia. This allows us to assess how far some European governments have already moved their discourses towards such autocracies. We employ web-scraping techniques and novel text-as-data approaches (Lowe et al. 2011), such as the Structured Topic Model (Lucas et al. 2015), to scrutinize the speeches of political leaders. Our data set includes over 4000 speeches delivered between 2009 and 2018 by political leaders of more than 30 countries. By scaling these speeches along several dimensions, we reveal how, in comparative terms, authoritarian or democratic, how liberal or illiberal, and how populist or non-populist the leaders present themselves to their national and international audience. Preliminary results show that some heads of government inside the EU use language more similar to that of authoritarian rulers than their democratic peers. This means that when only looking at the way these self-declared illiberal democrats talk, they can barely be distinguished from autocratic rulers. This is a worrying finding for supporters of liberal democracy, for those leaders’ choice of language and its digital dissemination through dedicated government websites indicate a broader strategy with the goal to not only talk like an autocrat but also act like one.
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