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December 17, 2018

Fast Fact: Linguistic analyses of election manifestos yield telling results

What can manifestos tell us about India’s leading political parties? Word frequency analyses of the 2014 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC) election manifestos yield the following results:


Figure 1

Figure 2


These figures illustrate two key findings. First, the most used words are nouns, not verbs. Verbs, or action-oriented words, such as ‘prevent’ and ‘transform’, occur less than 10 times in both documents. This is significant because manifestos currently shed light on what political parties will do, not on how they intend to achieve their goals. Second, manifestos reveal ideological undertones. Through the word frequency analyses, we observe that the BJP manifesto is skewed towards economic factors whereas the INC manifesto is more supportive of social inclusion. While the two objectives are not mutually exclusive, ideological leanings can yield profound practical differences for India’s development trajectory. For example, the vision of a ‘healthy India’ or an ‘educated India’ will be different for both parties.


Manifestos thus serve an important communicative function for voters. They illuminate party ideologies and affirm a frustrating reality – that parties seem to tell us what they promise to do while dodging the obligation to tell us how they will do it.


Note: This data was used in an article published on Mint. In the word count analysis, we dropped common words such as ‘at’, ‘and’, ‘the’, and words in headers/footers. Words that have plurals and possessives have not been clubbed under one word (for example, ‘right’ and ‘rights’ and ‘people’ and ‘people’s’ each have their own word count). Health and healthcare have been combined. The word used the greatest number of times was ‘will’ in both manifestos and has been dropped from both counts. The word ‘national’ would not be a fair comparison as it appears in the INC’s name.

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