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Did Cristina Move Further to the Left this Year?

On March 1st, Cristina Kirchner, the incumbent Argentine president, gave her speech to open this year’s legislative sessions. Similar to our analysis of Brazil, we are interested to find out about what her speech reveals about her ideological positioning. How does Cristina Kirchner compare to previous presidents? And does this year’s message differ from her previous address?

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This is what we find: Just as in the Brazilian case, we observe a remarkable overall trend of Argentine presidents to move towards the ideological left over the course of the last two decades. You can see Carlos Menem on the right of the spectrum, being largely consistent in his speeches over the course of the 1990s. In contrast, de la Rua and Duhalde change their position remarkably during Argentina’s economic crisis in the early 2000s. According to his speeches, Nestor Kirchner starts his time in office on a similar position as his predecessors–just to move more to the left in his last year of tenure. His wife then continues this journey, moving further towards the left spectrum and remaining since 2010 consistently on her extreme position. Given what we find, her speech this year is not systematically different from her presentation last year.

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The Ideological Position of Dilma’s “Mensagem ao Congresso” 2014

For our research project, we have been collecting presidential “state-of-the-union” addresses in 14 Latin American countries, among other Brazil. Last Monday, the incumbent president, Dilma Rousseff, presented her statement in the Brazilian legislative chamber. So what does Dilma’s Mensagem ao Congresso 2014 reveal about her ideological position? Does she differ regarding her previous statements? And how does she compare to the other Brazilian presidents?

While one might have an intuitive understanding about this, we wanted to be a little more exact. To measure the political positions of Brazilian presidents, we use a scaling algorithm as implemented in wordfish. (For an application to the US case, see the recent blog posts from Ben Lauderdale and Will Lowe.) The basic idea here is to calculate the position of a speech on the basis of the frequency of ideologically relevant vocabulary.

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This is how our results look like for the Mensagems ao Congresso of all Brazilian presidents since the redemocratization. As you can see, there is a remarkable trend to the “left” of the Brazilian presidents over the course of these years. Given their respective party affiliations, this is nothing really surprising.

So what about Dilma? As our estimation of her speeches shows, she started out with a position close to Lula, her predecessor. While she then established herself on a more extreme leftist position, she strikes a more moderate tone this year.

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The following figure shows this even more clearly. It plots the movement of each president, setting the starting point to 0 and then simply adding the movements in the years that follow. Dilma began her political journey with a marked move to the left – just to move back a little in the current election year.

This contrasts with Lula:  While he presented himself with quite conservative views in early stages of his tenure, his speeches became ever more extreme during the subsequent years. Only after his reelection did he announce more or less stable political views in his Mensagems ao Congresso.