The findings, by Fulbright-Flinders Distinguished Chair in American Political Science, Professor Thaddeus Kousser, are partly a result of using 2,500 tweets analysed by research assistants to train computers to develop algorithms which spot ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ leaning comments.
The resulting algorithms, which Professor Kousser said can correctly place Tweets up to 80 per cent of the time, reveal what percentage of Tweets are Right-leaning vs. Left-leaning, when a politician’s Tweets have a clear ideological tilt.
He found that Education Minister Christopher Pyne received one of the highest scores for ‘Right’ leaning Tweets, on 90 per cent, while Labour Leader Bill Shorten’s ideological Tweets leaned Right just 7 per cent of the time (and thus leaned Left 93 per cent of the time).
Interestingly, Professor Kousser found that Prime Minister Tony Abbott moved slightly toward the centre during the last election, dropping from 71 per cent of Tweets leaning Right to 63 per cent during campaigning, and then returning to 71 per cent afterwards.
However, although a score of just 1 per cent by Labor versus a score of 95 per cent by the Liberals might indicate extreme polarisation in Australian politics, Professor Kousser said there was some middle ground to be found, with some Labor and Liberal MPs ‘crossing over’ on a left-right scale.
“Essentially, Australian politicians are where politicians in the US were pre-Watergate,” said Professor Kousser. “Which is to say that there is evidence that things are not as polarised as they are in the US at present, which has led at times to political paralysis.”
“The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, for example, scores further to the left than some Labor MPs, and there are similar findings for others.”
Professor Kousser made a presentation about his findings on June 17 at Flinders University, Victoria Square, titled: “Polarisations vs. Polarization: Comparing Party Divergence in US and Australia.”
That included his preliminary work, which begins to chart comparative political polarization, based on what Australian politicians say in interviews, on the Australian Candidate Survey, on Twitter, and in their maiden speeches.
After Professor Kousser’s presentation, Flinders University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling and the Australian-American Fulbright Commission signed a new five-year agreement from 2017-2021.
This is a joint agreement with Carnegie Mellon University Australia for the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Applied Public Policy.