October 03, 2014

Elections 2014: Party Programs and Word Clouds

MABB ©

It is October second and we are 10 days away from Bolivian elections. In a prior post I described MAS's political program to bring a bit more understanding on what they are proposing this time around. In this post I hope to contribute a bit of analysis on all the parties' programs using word clouds. FYI, as you know very well, the five political groups running for elections are the MAS, MSM, UD, PDC and the PV. From these five, really the MAS has all the possibilities to being re-elected, but the UD is its closest competitor, albeit it is really a considerable difference (see here). The PV (green party) has literally no chance because it is the party with the smallest support.

I got inspired after reading this post (in Spanish), which also attempted a similar approach. What the author of that post basically did is to attempt to draw some conclusions by looking at the frequency of discourse in the programs of four of the five political groupings taking part in the Bolivian elections. He basically defined two dimensions (democracy and state as well as economic policies) and proceeded to conduct a simple quantitative analysis of the text in hand. The procedure was to count how many words fell under the mentioned dimensions. His results show, for example, that MAS places emphasis on production, industry and economics because the frequency of those words are 30, 24 and 23 per cent, respectively. The assumption is, of course, the program was written by a group of party members and discussed by the party before making it public. This paper, in fact, would represent a collective opinion about which policy areas are important for the party and what aims or plans that party has for the future.

Now on this post the assumptions are similar, i.e. it has a constructivist approach. At this point I should disclose I am a critic of this approach but see it a useful tool to formulate interesting questions. To read my critic you will have to keep reading until the end.

Nevertheless, what I did is ask myself why not use word clouds to analyze the entire text rather than come up with dimensions and go through the text to try to find what I am looking for? I thought why not let the text tell me what the authors place emphasis on? So, that is basically what I did and what word clouds do, namely a word cloud is the graphical representation of the frequency of word usage in a particular text. This assumes the important issues people who are producing the text have get introduced into the text reflecting thereby what is important for that group. Careful interpretation should show what issues, concepts and policies are important.

Moreover, I produced four graphs or word clouds for each of the four most important political groups in the elections. The clouds are to be read as concentric circles, with the center part displaying the most frequent words in thicker fonts and the outer areas the less frequent words. Finally, I left out the green party or Partido Verde (PV) not only due to some technical difficulties but because the party has virtually no support among the population.

I will proceed the analysis by first looking at each party program to then engage on some comparative analysis. The last part will discuss what is potentially wrong with this approach.

The MAS

Own elaboration. Please click on image for a larger view.
As you may observe on the word cloud above, it seems the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) places emphasis on issues that signal a feeling of togetherness such as our (nuestro), Bolivia, and country (pais). In addition to wanting to transmit a feeling of "our country", it seems that social work, development, living well (Buen Vivir), national resources, production and education and construction are also important. This is consistent with what MAS and Morales are currently working on and with the fact that Morales has been speaking indirectly about his desire to continue with his government's process of change. This means to use natural resources to practically finance the economic and social development of the country by continuing the re-distribution policies and the starting of more state companies (see my post about Morales' economic model here). Curiously enough we find at the edge of the concentric circles issues such as violence, corruption, socialism, democracy, and equality. However, this does not have to mean too much because there is not much difference in the size of the words among the outer most circles and the other circles closer to the center.

The UD

Own elaboration. Please click on image for a larger view.
The Unidad Democratica (UD) party, led by Doria Medina, seems to place emphasis on social issues as well. At the same time however, development is also an important issue. The word cloud shows a tendency to emphasize resources (recursos), production, growth (crecimiento), education, services, rights, security and justice. Meanwhile, less emphasis seems to be placed on construction, enterprises (empresas), legislative issues (legislativo), administrative, discrimination, exports and autonomy. The latter is an issue which will still be relevant for the country due to the new financial resources distribution arrangements the government wants to reform in the coming years. Another interesting observation is that the word democracy seems to be underused within a party that has suggested Morales was not that democratic.

The MSM

Own elaboration. Please click on image for a larger view.
The Movimiento Sin Miedo's (MSM) word cloud distinguished itself by the number of words and the sheer volume of the document. It is actually the largest document of the four and the one who used a well developed vocabulary. I take it is because a number of intellectuals has been dominating this party since the days it was part of the MIR, which was also a party that emerged from an academic setting. It is the document that has the least difference among the size of the words, meaning the emphasis on a number of issues and concepts and also meaning they want to achieve, perhaps, too much. The center is populated by words like production, development, resources, education, investment, economy and, here is a new issue, health. It seems that less emphasis is placed on technology, institutions, pluralism, unemployment, export, autonomy, decentralization, transparency, corruption and regions. This may point to the leftist orientation of the party, which may explain the emphasis on health and development and natural resources but less interest on autonomy, decentralization, export or international trade and pluralism issues.

The PDC

Own elaboration. Please click on image for a larger view.

The Partido Democrata Cristiano's (PDC) word cloud indicates an emphasis on power, people, government and differentiation. In addition, it seems that for the party, the economy and development is a bit less important. It also seems that housing, the development of lithium production and citizen security are also some issues which the party might place some emphasis on. Less important issues seem autonomy, decentralization, corruption, employment, and regional governments. However, as in one case above, I have to highlight the relatively equal size of the words which might diminish the difference between word importance among the concentric circles.

Comparing the four cases

What can be said about the four political programs of the four most important political groups taking part in the oncoming Bolivian general elections. First, it is very clear and understandable that all four parties place more emphasis on economic development. This, I suggest, is because Bolivia is at a time in its history where for the first time it has plenty of financial resources and thus time to think and act upon the country's economic development. In prior times this was not always the case. While development has always been an important issue, the country has always had existential worries that placed development a bit behind the country's to do list. Some examples that comes to mind is the endemic weakness in its institutions, or the effects of corruption on the development of the country or the social issues of discrimination, inequality and inclusion which plagued the country for so long.

It is also clear that most parties make an emphasis on the use of Bolivia's natural resources to achieve economic and social development. On the one side, it seems logical because that is how the country largely finances itself, with the sell of natural gas. On the other side, the country does not seem to have an alternative other than rely on its natural resources to develop. While there is some activity on the private sector, the current government has managed to crowd out the economy and has placed all its cards on the selling of its natural resources.

Another clear outcome is the emphasis on social issues. I explain this on the back of what the MAS has already achieved. The future government will have the task to deal with the several social transfer programs Morales has put into place. The population will want to make these better or even will expect to get more such programs. All parties seem to be willing to work on the betterment of such programs. There are no parties that advocate restriction on the volume of transfers or even talk about the dangers of spending too much. Not this time around.

Another concept that seems to be the focus of emphasis for all parties is production. Once again, I suggest this is due to the current policy direction. As you know, the government has been creating several companies to push the manufacturing sector's growth.This the government calls the productive sector, which means really the manufacturing of value-added products. Based on those efforts, it seems that all parties have plans to continue with this type of development policy. Whether they will adopt the MAS' model or not is left out on the air.

Some parties also agree on the importance of education, as observable in the word clouds.

All parties also seem to place less emphasis on issues such as corruption, autonomy, decentralization, regional issues, the health of institutions, and administration. Many of these issues are no surprise because for now issues on autonomy, decentralization and regional issues are seemingly resolved by the new law on decentralization and autonomy. However, I think these issues will come back to hunt Bolivians because of the many discrepancies and contradictions built into the laws framing these issues, including the mentioned law and the constitution.

However, there are also differences, as there should be. For example, the MAS places much emphasis on the realization of its aspiration of Buen Vivir (living well). As noted earlier, living well means a life with the most basic human necessities satisfied as well as other necessities such as education, access to health and water and even access to Internet. All this in harmony with the community and the environment. That is more or less my interpretation. For its part, the MSM places a visible emphasis on health. Why? I can only speculate that this is an issue perceived by MSM as needing more attention in the current situation. The Unidad Democratica has placed emphasis on rights, justice and citizen security. This is very understandable having in mind the criticism on Morales and his government. The country has been experiencing an increase on crime, such as brutal assaults, some shootings among criminal groups on the streets and kidnappings (specially of young women). In addition, the people have been complaining about the quality of justice and its notoriously slow pace. For example, people who get preventive and short retention orders end up staying in cells for years. Many people complain there is no justice in Bolivia. It has become a really problematic issue that the next government will have to tackle. Related to that is the UD's emphasis on rights. The party has been the one who has complained about the political persecution of the opposition by the government. The reason is because there is a large number of opposition leaders who are in jail or have sought asylum in other countries because in Bolivia there was no guarantee of a fair and expedite trial. Finally it seems the Christian Democratic Party places emphasis on the exploitation of lithium and housing, which might be two issues strategically chosen to differentiate themselves with MAS.

Notoriously lacking attention for all political groups, in my view, is the problem of corruption. I am not sure whether it is cultural, i.e. that corruption is not that bad, or because the country has other more urgent issues to tackle than to worry about corruption at this point. However, corruption is an endemic problem and should be addressed because it tends to undermine all other efforts. Also, I am encourage to see that discrimination and racism has been addressed and hopefully the country will find a positive way to keep dealing with it. Lastly, and also notoriously missing was a bit of attention to foreign policy, foreign relations and also, to a lesser extent, foreign trade issues. I guess the country is busy with itself at this time.

Conclusion

In summary, all this tells me there will be much continuity on the path Bolivia will take after the elections. Even if we see a defeat of the Morales ticket, most other parties have displayed a degree of emphasis on issues of economic growth, reliance on natural resources to finance that growth, attention to social issues improvements and efforts to diversify production in the country.

Now, before you say, yes but ... I have to clarify that this analysis is not a rigorous scientific analysis. So much is clear. One special problem with it is contextual relevance. While the counting of words might seem to indicate emphasis on such concepts, issues and policies, the context in which those words were produced is not taken into account. To illustrate this, the word poder in Spanish has two meanings. It can be used to express 'can do' or it can also mean 'power'. So the frequency of the word may not be useful because it might be used in both ways. In which case, the meaning or emphasis of the word may be misplaced. In essence, I am suggesting that context matters and the mere counting of words might be a good way to begin a rigorous scientific analysis.




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