This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

It's only words/and words are all I have

"So what happens when we compare the Conservative and Labour manifestos?"
Manifestos not only inform us about the sorts of issues which parties consider important at the election, they also provide crucial insights into how the parties think about these issues.
You can get some sense of an answer to these questions can be gained from reading the manifestos carefully, a more systematic approach is to analyse the text of the manifestos in order to determine the types of words that they use to describe their positions – as explained here.

So what happens when we compare the Conservative and Labour manifestos? Some differences between the manifestos are immediately apparent. The most obvious difference is that Conservatives are more likely to use words that relate to chaos (such as ‘disorder’, ‘ruin’, ‘wild’, etc.) than Labour (112% more uses). The Conservatives are also more likely to use words relating to ‘restraint’ (‘control’, ‘discipline’, ‘halt’, etc.) than Labour (32% more uses). This may not be surprising given the Conservative’s ‘broken Britain’ claims. What may be more surprising is that Labour are more likely than the Conservatives to use words relating to ‘moral imperatives’ – such as ‘duty’, ‘law’, ‘principles’ (22% more uses).

Labour are also more likely to use words relating to ‘growth’ and ‘height’ (60% more uses). A plausible interpretation of this suggests that this is a result of Labour attempting to play up its record on producing economic growth. Strengthening the case for this interpretation is Labour’s greater usage of words relating to ‘time’ (‘past’, ‘decade’, ‘time’, etc.) (40% more uses). Contrasting with this is the Conservative focus upon words relating to rank orders (‘consistent’, ‘original’, ‘rank’, etc.) (25% more uses) – almost certainly relating to a pessimistic view of Britain in a comparative setting.

Finally, and importantly, the Conservatives are more likely to use words relating to ‘abstract thought’ (‘belief’, ‘choice’, ‘plan’, etc.) than Labour (25% more uses). This suggests a Conservative manifesto built more upon an ideologically driven vision of the future and a Labour manifesto built more upon past facts.

All of the above differences are statistically significant at the 95% level, and comparisons in word usage have been standardised for the different length of manifestos. Unstandardised, the Conservative manifesto is 28768 words in length. The Labour manifesto is 30517 words.

And before any Lib Dems complain, analysis of their manifesto will follow.

Jonathan Rose

1 comment:

  1. The moral imperative point is interesting, although the Conservatives do use the idea of 'responsibility' quite a bit more, they are more often talking about individuals (not, for example, fiscal responsibility), and regularly pronounce it as a core belief.
    Chris Wood


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