A. Spirling, L. Huang, and P. Perry. “Boring in a New Way: Estimation and Inference for Political Style at Westminster, 1935–2018.”

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.

  • Presented by L. Huang at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, 2018, and at the Society for Political Methodology Annual Meeting, 2018. Also presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Meeting, 2018.
  • An earlier draft version is available on SSRN.

L. Huang. “Estimating the distribution of state power at the UN using topic models.”

What accounts for variation in states’ influence on the agenda at the UN General Assembly (GA), and how can we use this variation to understand the underlying distribution of power in international relations? To answer these questions, I introduce a dataset of statements given at the UN’s annual General Debate, and a corresponding dataset of GA resolutions. Using unsupervised machine learning, I extract each state’s issue priorities from their statements and assess the extent to which resolutions passed by the GA address these priorities. Contrary to my expectations, I do not find convincing support for the hypotheses that Security Council members or wealthier countries shape the UN’s agenda to fit their interests. I suggest this result is due to countervailing efforts to block and advance resolutions.

  • Poster presentation at the Society for Political Methodology Annual Meeting, 2018.
  • This project was submitted as my Qualifying Paper, a requirement to qualify as a PhD candidate in political science, and earned unanimous “high pass” grades.