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Capturing Government Policy on the Left–Right Scale: Evidence from the United Kingdom, 1956–2006


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The left–right scheme is the most widely used and parsimonious representation of political competition. Yet, long time series of the left–right position of governments are sparse. Existing methods are of limited use in dynamic settings due to insufficient time points which hinders the proper specification of time-series regressions. This article analyses legislative speeches in order to construct an annual left–right policy variable for Britain from 1956 to 2006. Using a recently developed content analysis tool, known as Wordscores, it is shown that speeches yield valid and reliable estimates for the left–right position of British government policy. Long time series such as the one proposed in this article are vital to building dynamic macro-level models of politics. This measure is cross-validated with four independent sources: (1) it compares well to expert surveys; (2) a rightward trend is found in post-war British government policy; (3) Conservative governments are found to be more right wing in their policy outputs than Labour governments; (4) conventional accounts of British post-war politics support the pattern of government policy movement on the left–right scale.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Oxford

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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