Boring in a New Way: Estimation and Inference for Political Style at Westminster, 1935–2018
33 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2018
Date Written: August 20, 2018
We consider the merits of claims that Members of Parliament (MPs) in the UK have become more ‘boring’ over time—that is, less distinctive from one another in terms of their speech and style. We review theory and previous findings in the area, and note their ambiguity in predictions on this matter. We then provide an efficient new measurement model of distinctiveness that extends traditional efforts to statistically characterize the ‘style’ of authors, and apply it to a corpus of Hansard speeches from 1935 to 2018. In the aggregate, we find no evidence for the claim of increased boringness. But this hides intriguing covariate effects: at the MP level, panel regression results demonstrate that on average, more senior backbenchers tend to be less interesting in speech terms. We also show, however, that this pattern is changing: in recent times, it is more experienced MPs who speak most distinctively.
Keywords: Westminster, text as data, political methodology, stylometry
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