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Ideological Scaling of Social Media Users: A Dynamic Lexicon Approach

  • Mickael Temporão (a1), Corentin Vande Kerckhove (a2), Clifton van der Linden (a3), Yannick Dufresne (a1) and Julien M. Hendrickx (a2)...

Abstract

Words matter in politics. The rhetoric that political elites employ structures civic discourse. The emergence of social media platforms as a medium of politics has enabled ordinary citizens to express their ideological inclinations by adopting the lexicon of political elites. This avails to researchers a rich new source of data in the study of political ideology. However, existing ideological text-scaling methods fail to produce meaningful inferences when applied to the short, informal style of textual content that is characteristic of social media platforms such as Twitter. This paper introduces the first viable approach to the estimation of individual-level ideological positions derived from social media content. This method allows us to position social media users—be they political elites, parties, or citizens—along a shared ideological dimension. We validate the proposed method by demonstrating correlation with existing measures of ideology across various political contexts and multiple languages. We further demonstrate the ability of ideological estimates to capture derivative signal by predicting out-of-sample, individual-level voting intentions. We posit that social media data can, when properly modeled, better capture derivative signal than discrete scales used in more traditional survey instruments.

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Footnotes

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Contributing Editor: Jonathan N. Katz

Author’s note: We thank François Gélineau, Thierry Giasson, William Jacoby, Jonathan N. Katz (editor), Gregory Kerr, Michael Lewis-Beck, Alexander Shestopaloff, and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and discussions. All remaining errors are ours. We also thank the participants of the 3rd Leuven-Montréal Winter School on Elections for their feedback on an earlier draft of this paper. This research was made possible thanks to an allocation of supercomputer resources from Compute Canada, specifically the ‘Colosse’ service administered by Calcul Québec at Laval University. The operation of this supercomputer is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the ministère de l’Économie, de la science et de l’innovation du Québec (MESI) and the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Nature et technologies (FRQ-NT). We are grateful in particular to Félix-Antoine Fortin for facilitating the computing resources associated with this research. Replication materials are available online on the Harvard Dataverse Temporão et al. (2018), at doi:10.7910/DVN/0ZCBTB. Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis Web site.

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References

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Ideological Scaling of Social Media Users: A Dynamic Lexicon Approach

  • Mickael Temporão (a1), Corentin Vande Kerckhove (a2), Clifton van der Linden (a3), Yannick Dufresne (a1) and Julien M. Hendrickx (a2)...

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