Reading Between the Lines

Reading Between the Lines: Prediction of Political Violence Using Newspaper Text

by Hannes Mueller, Institut d’Analisi Economica and Christopher RauhUniversity of Montreal

This article provides a new methodology to predict armed conflict by using newspaper text. Through machine learning, vast quantities of newspaper text are reduced to interpretable topics. These topics are then used in panel regressions to predict the onset of conflict out-of-sample. We propose the use of the within-country variation of these topics to predict the timing of conflict. This allows us to avoid the tendency of predicting conflict only in countries where it occurred before. We show that the within-country variation of topics is a good predictor of conflict and becomes particularly useful when risk in previously peaceful countries arises. Two aspects seem to be responsible for these features. Topics provide depth because they consist of changing, long lists of terms which makes them able to capture the changing context of conflict. At the same time topics provide width because they are summaries of the full text, including stabilizing factors.

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American Political Science ReviewVolume 112Issue 2, May 2018