Using NLP to measure democracy

Using NLP to measure democracy by Thiago Marzagão.


This paper uses natural language processing to create the first machine-coded democracy index, which I call Automated Democracy Scores (ADS). The ADS are based on 42 million news articles from 6,043 different sources and cover all independent countries in the 1993-2012 period. Unlike the democracy indices we have today the ADS are replicable and have standard errors small enough to actually distinguish between cases.

The ADS are produced with supervised learning. Three approaches are tried: a) a combination of Latent Semantic Analysis and tree-based regression methods; b) a combination of Latent Dirichlet Allocation and tree-based regression methods; and c) the Wordscores algorithm. The Wordscores algorithm outperforms the alternatives, so it is the one on which the ADS are based.

There is a web application where anyone can change the training set and see how the results change:

Automated Democracy Scores Part of the PhD work of Thiago Marzagão. An online interface that allows you to change democracy scores by the year and country and run the analysis against 200 billion data points on an Amazon cluster.

Quite remarkable although I suspect this level of PhD work and public access to it will grow rapidly in the near future.

Do read the paper and don’t jump straight to the data. 😉 Take a minute to see what results Thiago has reached thus far.

Personally I was expecting the United States and China to be running neck and neck. Mostly because the wealthy choose candidates for public office in the United States and in China the Party chooses them. Not all that different, perhaps a bit more formalized and less chaotic in China. Certainly less in the way of campaign costs. (humor)

I was seriously surprised to find that democracy was lowest in Africa and the Middle East. Evaluated on a national basis that may be correct but Western definitions aren’t easy to apply to Africa and the Middle East. Nation, Tribe and Ethnic Group in Africa And Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics for one tip of the iceberg on decision making in Africa.

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