Lately I’ve become interested in analyzing political parties’ platforms using word clouds, because of a blog post by York University PhD candidate Ian Milligan on Active History, a website that promotes Canadian history literacy. Milligan’s post compared various CCF/NDP documents from the 1933 Regina Manifesto to the 2011 federal NDP platform.
Word clouds are a data visualization that analyzes a body of text, assigns varying degrees of importance to different words and then presents the results by showing those words in different sizes and/or colours. A simple example of this that you are probably familiar with is the Agenda with Steve Paikin’s “Hot Tags” page. On that page, the more often a blog post or program has been given a particular tag (i.e. provincial politics), the larger that tag’s font will be.
I really enjoyed Milligan’s post and since, as of yesterday, all the Ontario provincial parties have released their 2011 election platforms, I thought people may be interested in seeing word clouds for these documents.
While I think word clouds are a quick, fun way to compare the language and priorities of different parties, I encourage you to read all the parties’ platforms.
I used the word cloud generator website Wordle for this post. In the word clouds below the larger a word is the more often it is used in a platform (in these word clouds the order in which these words appear and their colour are entirely random).
You can read the entire Liberal Party platform here.
You can read the entire PC platform here.
You can read the entire Green Party platform here.
Some thoughts on the word clouds
One of the reasons why I enjoy word clouds is that they are a great tool for seeing the everyday ways that parties express their ideology. For example, the Green Party stuck to the language of an environmentalist party by frequently using words such as: future, local, food and sustainable. I think the NDP’s social democratic foundation can be seen the platform’s focus on: CEO/CEOs, corporations and need. I was surprised to see how little the PCs used typical conservative words such as: bureaucracy, choice and opportunities. Personally, I had troubles finding liberal ideology in the Ontario Liberal word cloud (maybe others will see things that I missed). The Liberal platform spends a great deal of time on government programs such as, health care and education, but I don’t know if that should be attributed to liberal ideology or a government seeking re-election.
As you can see from the PC word cloud, their overarching message is that they can deliver change. The NDP also refer to change often in their platform, but less than the Tories (although the NDP platform is called, “Plan for Affordable Change”). On the other end of the spectrum, the Green Party doesn’t use the word “change” once in its platform. Perhaps there’s a relationship between the amount that a party talks about change and the likelihood that party will replace the sitting government. The Ontario Liberals only mention change seven times in their platform, which I didn’t find surprising for the governing party.
These word clouds can also give you a sense of coming policy debates in this election. For instance, you can see words such as energy, hydro, electricity and heating throughout these word clouds (at all of last season’s Agenda Camps people said that energy is one of their most important issues). All the parties seem to be focused on jobs and the economy, which makes sense given the economy’s somewhat shaky recovery. The use of words such as affordable and relief probably reflect a focus on pocketbook issues, particularly by the PCs and NDP.
With these word clouds we can also see where the parties are trying to differentiate themselves from their opponents. For instance, the Liberals have been trying to encourage increased globalization in Ontario since they released the Open Ontario plan last year and that can be seen in their word cloud with the prominence of: world, global and North America. “Victims” only appears in the PCs’ word cloud, which reflects the Tories’ tough on crime policies. “Transit” is much larger in the NDP’s word cloud – the NDP are promising increased provincial funding for public transit if municipalities freeze fares. Food policy is a major topic in the Green platform and their word cloud shows this with the words: fresh, local, healthy and farmers.
Finally, I find the dominant noun used by the parties to be fascinating. The NDP use “people” and the Greens use “community/communities.” “Family” is used by PCs and Liberals (although the Liberals also frequently use “Ontarians”). The Ontario parties’ relentless appeals to families were discussed in a June program of the Agenda with Steve Paikin. The guests on that panel argued that a great deal of thought is put into the omnibus words used by the parties.
There is certainly more to analyze here, so I hope you will continue discussing these word clouds and the party platforms below.