How Newspapers Reveal Political Power

40 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2015

See all articles by Pamela Ban

Pamela Ban

Harvard University, Students

Alexander Fouirnaies

Harris School at University of Chicago

Andrew Hall

Stanford University

James M. Snyder

Harvard University

Date Written: July 10, 2015

Abstract

Political science is in large part the study of power, but power itself is difficult to measure. We argue that we can use newspaper coverage -- in particular, the relative amount of space devoted to particular subjects in newspapers -- to measure the relative power of an important set of political actors and offices. We use a new dataset containing nearly 50 million historical newspaper pages from 2,700 local U.S. newspapers over the years 1877-1977. We define and discuss a measure of power we develop based on observed word frequencies, and we validate it through a series of analyses. Overall, we find that the relative coverage of political actors and of political offices is a strong indicator of political power for the cases we study. To illustrate its usefulness, we then apply the measure to understand when (and where) state party committees lost their power. Taken together, the paper sheds light on the nature of political news coverage and offers both a new dataset and a new measure for studying political power in a wide set of contexts.

Suggested Citation

Ban, Pamela and Fouirnaies, Alexander and Hall, Andrew and Snyder, James M., How Newspapers Reveal Political Power (July 10, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2629249 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2629249

Pamela Ban

Harvard University, Students ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

Alexander Fouirnaies

Harris School at University of Chicago ( email )

Harris School of Public Policy
1155 E 60th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
+17732942341 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.fouirnaies.com

Andrew Hall (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

James M. Snyder

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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