An Animated History of Senate Debate on Defense, 1997-2004


Fightin' Words: Methods of Lexical Feature Selection and Evaluation for Evaluating the Content of Political Conflict

Political Analysis, 16(4) [PDF]

Burt L. Monroe (Pennsylvania State University)

Michael P. Colaresi (Michigan State University)

Kevin M. Quinn (Harvard University)

This animation shows the dynamics of the partisan debate, Democratic vs. Republican, in the United States Senate over the issue of defense for the period 1997-2004. The model underlying the graphic is described by Monroe, Colaresi, and Quinn (2008).

Words to the right are used more (overall). Words that are big and blue were very Democratic. Words that are big and red were very Republican.

When the cloud is compressed, with only tiny illegible words, there was minimal polarization on defense. If the cloud is compressed and to the left, polarization is minimal because defense was not a salient issue (e.g., summer 2001, "The Summer of the Shark"). After 9/11, the cloud shifts to the right as defense becomes more salient, but parties remain unified. The cloud expands as polarization starts to increase after the authorization of the Iraq war in October 2002.

Some words switch sides over this period. Prominent examples include "Iraq" and "oil" (both Republican in 2002; Democratic in 2004). Some words appear and disappear quickly, such as "Israel" as a Republican frame in early 2002. As the debate becomes more polarized during the 2004 presidential election, there appears to be more churn as different arguments are tested and abandoned.

This animation requires QuickTime (free).

Updated February 2, 2009.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under grants BCS 05-27513 and BCS 07-14688. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Please contact burtmonroe [asperand] psu [period] edu with any questions or comments.