and Seminal Studies
This is an illustrative, rather than exhaustive,
review of content analysis in political research.
Whereas the term "information retrieval" is from the
computer era, "content analysis" was done manually long
before computers. The U.S. government sponsored extensive
efforts at content analysis of enemy messages during
World War II. Shortly after the war, various scholars
involved in that work published a landmark
- Lasswell, Harold D.,
Nathan Leites, and associates, Language of Politics:
Studies in Quantitative Semantics (New York: George
W. Stewart, 1949).
- In one form or another,
content analysis has long been used to test sweeping
statements about politics that can't be easily verified.
More than four decades ago--without the benefit of
computers--one scholar sought to determine whether
American foreign policy went through "cycles," as often
- Klingberg, Frank L. "The
Historical Alternation of Moods in American Foreign
Policy," World Politics (January, 1952),
- See his later work:
Frank L. Klingberg, Cyclical Moods in
American Foreign Policy (Lanham, MD: University
Press of American, 1983)
- A landmark computer
program for content analysis, called "The General
Inquirer," was developed at M.I.T. in the early 1960s.
Athough it may not have been the first program for
content analysis, it was the most influential. Originally
designed to run on huge mainframe computers, versions are
still running today on desktop machines.
- Stone, Philip J. et al.
The General Inquirer: A Computer Approach to Content
Analysis: Studies in Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology,
and Political Science. Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T.
- Most of what you or I
say trails off into thin air, but presidential parlance
tends to be captured for history (as Richard Nixon sadly
learned). Formal presidential speeches, such as Inaugural
Addresses and State of the Union messages, have been
converted to computer files. Hart analyzed presidential
speech for style, not content.
- Hart, Roderick P.
Verbal Style and the Presidency: A Computer-Based
Analysis. Orlando, Florida: Academic Press,
- Style of speech is
important, as Clinton taught and Dole learned in the 1996
presidential campaign. But what the person says is
important too, and it is a main objective in content
analysis. Moen's analyzed Reagan's speeches for what he
said, not how he said it.
- Moen, Matthew C. "The
Political Agenda of Ronald Reagan: A Content Analysis of
the State of the Union Messages," Presidential Studies
Quarterly, 18 (Fall, 1988), 775-785.
- Laura Olson, an NU
undergraduate political science major (class of '89),
analyzed all presidential speeches from Harry Truman
through Ronald Reagan, noting the frequency and nature of
their religious references.
- Olson, Laura. "Ronald
Reagan and the New Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian
Right," Paper prepared for Political Science C27, March,
- (Laura was so excited
with her research that she spared the nation from
having another lawyer and went to graduate school at
Wisconsin, getting her PhD in 1996 for a dissertation
on religion in politics. She teaches at Clemson
University and published Filled With Spirit and
Power: Protestant Clergy in Politics in
- Attention to now has
been on presidential speeches, but content analysis is
usually applied to texts that were never spoken. That
fits the nature of party platforms. Zvi Namenwirth used
the General Inquirer to analyze all major party platforms
from 1844 to 1964. Later, he joined with Lasswell in a
- Namenwirth, J. Zvi,
"Some Long- and Short-Term Trends in One American
Political Value: A Computer Analysis of Concern with
Wealth in 62 Party Platforms," in George Gerbner et al.
(eds.), The Analysis of Communication Content (New
York: Wiley, 1969), pp. 223-241.
- Namenwirth, J. Zvi and
Harold D. Lasswell, The Changing Language of American
Values: A Computer Study of Selected Party Platforms
(Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Comparative
Politics Series, Number 01-001 (1970).
- Gerald Pomper analyzed
U.S. party platforms without using computer methods, but
his research was quantitative and did use computer
methods of statistical analysis. Richard Rose did
comparable research on British parties, whose statements
of principles are called "election manifestos" rather
than "party platforms."
- Pomper, Gerald, with
Susan S. Lederman, Elections in America: Control and
Influence in Democratic Politics, 2nd Ed. (New Yok:
- Richard Rose, Do
Parties Make a Difference? 2nd Ed. (Chatham,
- During the 1980s, a
group of European scholars undertook the Comparative
Manifesto Project, a cooperative effort to do a content
analysis of all party manifestos since the end of World
War II. Here is the first major publication from the
project and a citation to a recent publication from this
on-going project, which now covers parties in 20
countries from 1945 to 1985.
- Budge, Ian, David
Robertson, and Derek Hearl (eds.) (1987), Ideology,
Strategy and Party Change: Spatial Analyses of Post-War
Election Programmes in 19 Democracies. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press)
- Pennings, Paul, and Hans
Keman (2002), "Towards a new methodology of estimating
party policy positions," Quality & Quantity
- Content analysis has been especially prominent in the
analysis of social change, done by researchers in
sociology or communication studies. See:
- Wayne A. Danielson and Dominic L. Lasorsa,
"Perceptions of Social Change: 100 Years of Front-Page
Content in the New York Times and The Los Angeles Times,"
in Carl W. Roberts, Text Analysis for the Social
Sciences: Method for Drawing Statistical Inferences from
Texts and Transcripts (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associations, 1997), 103-115.
- Finally, mention should
be made to the recent work by Gerring, who analyzed the
platforms of the major U.S. parties from 1828 to
- Gerring, John. Party
Ideologies in America, 1828-1996. Cambridge
University Press, 1998.