A Computational Analysis of Constitutional Polarization

69 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2019 Last revised: 4 Sep 2019

See all articles by David Pozen

David Pozen

Columbia University - Law School

Eric L. Talley

Columbia University - School of Law

Julian Nyarko

Stanford Law School

Date Written: September 2, 2019

Abstract

This Article is the first to use computational methods to investigate the ideological and partisan structure of constitutional discourse outside the courts. We apply a range of machine-learning and text-analysis techniques to a newly available data set comprising all remarks made on the U.S. House and Senate floors from 1873 to 2016, as well as a collection of more recent newspaper editorials. Among other findings, we demonstrate:

(1) that constitutional discourse has grown increasingly polarized over the past four decades;

(2) that polarization has grown faster in constitutional discourse than in nonconstitutional discourse;

(3) that conservative-leaning speakers have driven this trend;

(4) that members of Congress whose political party does not control the presidency or their own chamber are significantly more likely to invoke the Constitution in some, but not all, contexts; and

(5) that contemporary conservative legislators have developed an especially coherent constitutional vocabulary, with which they have come to “own” not only terms associated with the document’s original meaning but also terms associated with textual provisions such as the First Amendment.

Above and beyond these concrete contributions, this Article demonstrates the potential for computational methods to advance the study of constitutional history, politics, and culture.

Keywords: constitutional law, constitutional politics, constitutional history, digital text analysis, partisan polarization, ideological polarization, Congress

Suggested Citation

Pozen, David E. and Talley, Eric L. and Nyarko, Julian, A Computational Analysis of Constitutional Polarization (September 2, 2019). Cornell Law Review, Forthcoming; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-624. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3351339

David E. Pozen (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

HOME PAGE: http://web.law.columbia.edu/faculty/david-pozen

Eric L. Talley

Columbia University - School of Law ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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

Julian Nyarko

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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