How Polarized are Citizens? Measuring Ideology from the Ground-Up

83 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2018 Last revised: 12 May 2021

See all articles by Mirko Draca

Mirko Draca

University of Warwick

Carlo Schwarz

Bocconi University - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 11, 2021

Abstract

Strong evidence has been emerging that major democracies have become more politically polarised, at least according to measures based on the ideological positions of political elites. We investigate whether the general public (`citizens') followed the same pattern. To this end, we propose a novel methodology to identify the underlying ideologies of citizens by applying Latent Dirichlet Allocation (an unsupervised machine learning algorithm) to political survey data. This approach indicates that in addition to a left-right scale, confidence in institutions defines another major ideological dimension. Using this framework, we are able to decompose the shift in ideological positions across the population over time and create measures of `citizen slant' and polarisation. Specifically, we find evidence of a `disappearing centre' in a sub-group of countries with citizens shifting away from centrist ideologies into anti-establishment `anarchist' ideologies over time. This trend is especially pronounced for the US.

Keywords: Polarisation, Ideology, Populism, Unsupervised Learning

JEL Classification: D72, C81

Suggested Citation

Draca, Mirko and Schwarz, Carlo, How Polarized are Citizens? Measuring Ideology from the Ground-Up (May 11, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3154431 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3154431

Mirko Draca (Contact Author)

University of Warwick ( email )

Gibbet Hill Rd.
Coventry, West Midlands CV4 8UW
United Kingdom

Carlo Schwarz

Bocconi University - Department of Economics ( email )

Via Gobbi 5
Milan, 20136
Italy

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