Topic correlation networks inferred from open-ended survey responses reveal signatures of ideology behind carbon tax opinion (Papers Track)

Maximilian Puelma Touzel (Mila)

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Behavioral and Social Science Climate Finance & Economics Public Policy Generative Modeling Natural Language Processing


Ideology can often render policy design ineffective by overriding what, at face value, are rational incentives. A timely example is carbon pricing, whose public support is strongly influenced by ideology. As a system of ideas, ideology expresses itself in the way people explain themselves and the world. As an object of study, ideology is then amenable to a generative modelling approach within the text-as-data paradigm. Here, we analyze the structure of ideology underlying carbon tax opinion using topic models. An idea, termed a topic, is operationalized as the fixed set of proportions with which words are used when talking about it. We characterize ideology through the relational structure between topics. To access this latent structure, we use the highly expressive Structural Topic Model to infer topics and the weights with which individual opinions mix topics. We fit the model to a large dataset of open-ended survey responses of Canadians elaborating on their support of or opposition to the tax. We propose and evaluate statistical measures of ideology in our data, such as dimensionality and heterogeneity. Finally, we discuss the implications of the results for transition policy in particular, and of our approach to analyzing ideology for computational social science in general.

Recorded Talk (direct link)