Ideal point models analyze lawmakers’ votes to quantify their political positions, or ideal points. But votes are not the only way to express a political position. Lawmakers also give speeches, release press statements, and post tweets. In this paper, we introduce the text-based ideal point model (TBIP), an unsupervised probabilistic topic model that analyzes texts to quantify the political positions of its authors. We demonstrate the TBIP with two types of politicized text data: U.S. Senate speeches and senator tweets. Though the model does not analyze their votes or political affiliations, the TBIP separates lawmakers by party, learns interpretable politicized topics, and infers ideal points close to the classical vote-based ideal points. One benefit of analyzing texts, as opposed to votes, is that the TBIP can estimate ideal points of anyone who authors political texts, including non-voting actors. To this end, we use it to study tweets from the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Using only the texts of their tweets, it identifies them along an interpretable progressive-to-moderate spectrum.
Topic modeling analyzes documents to learn meaningful patterns of words. However, existing topic models fail to learn interpretable topics when working with large and heavy-tailed vocabularies. To this end, we develop the embedded topic model (etm), a generative model of documents that marries traditional topic models with word embeddings. More specifically, the etm models each word with a categorical distribution whose natural parameter is the inner product between the word’s embedding and an embedding of its assigned topic. To fit the etm, we develop an efficient amortized variational inference algorithm. The etm discovers interpretable topics even with large vocabularies that include rare words and stop words. It outperforms existing document models, such as latent Dirichlet allocation, in terms of both topic quality and predictive performance.