Opinion/ Comment

Negative sentiment at the extremes of the political spectrum

The dynamics and fluctuations of sentiment in the speeches delivered by political leaders. By Assistant Professor Lamprini Rori*

The two pre-election periods of the 2023 parliamentary elections saw a clear reduction in polarization and divisiveness compared to previous election cycles. While the availability of comparative data using a standardized measurement method is limited, the memories of past crisis elections serve as a reminder of the toxic slogans, hate-filled posters, and the Manichean rhetoric often associated with populism. However, political discourse inherently encompasses nuances and differences, and analyzing the speeches of political leaders through tools like ChatGPT’s API, as conducted in the iMEdD research project, proves valuable in identifying and understanding these distinctions.

The prevalence of negative sentiment in the 2023 elections was predominantly monopolized by the leader of the Greek Solution party, while Yanis Varoufakis as the second most prominent figure in terms of negative sentiment.

Observing the evolution of sentiment in the two election periods, a notable observation is that Kyriakos Mitsotakis stands out as the only political leader who consistently maintained a positive tone throughout both election periods of 2023, with his sentiment being even more positive in the second election period, likely due to the “air of the winner” surrounding him. On the other hand, Alexis Tsipras, on average, maintained a position within the neutral sentiment spectrum, displaying significant fluctuations both during and between the two campaigns, with sentiment leaning towards the negative threshold, particularly in the first election period. Additionally, when examining the thematic analysis of sentiment, it becomes evident that negative sentiment prevails across the majority of the analyzed topics, potentially attributed to the increased use of criticism towards political opponents in Alexis Tsipras’ discourse. Nikos Androulakis also appears emotionally neutral, on average. However, there are differences in the variation of the PASOK leader’s discourse between the two election periods, with his discourse exhibiting fewer emotional nuances in the second period.

Although the General Secretary of the KKE maintains mostly emotional neutrality throughout the extended duration of the two campaigns, his sentiment tends to lean towards the lower end of the neutral spectrum, with Dimitris Koutsoumpas exhibiting negative emotion in a significant portion of his speeches during both election periods. The sentiment expressed in Yanis Varoufakis’ discourse during the first election period similarly hovers on the threshold between the neutral and negative spectrum (and tends to be more negative on average compared to Dimitris Koutsoumpas’ discourse), with certain parts of his speeches falling into the negative spectrum and the sentiment analysis by topic revealing predominantly negative sentiment. Kyriakos Velopoulos emerges as the sole political leader who consistently maintains a clearly negative sentiment, with occasional fluctuations towards neutrality. In essence, the prevalence of negative sentiment in the 2023 elections was predominantly monopolized by the leader of the far-right Greek Solution party, while Yanis Varoufakis from the Extreme Left appears as the second most prominent figure in terms of negative sentiment.

This evidence aligns with the research we published in 2017 (Agathangelou et al., 2017)1, which utilized big data on political networks on Twitter during the crisis period. The study compared three distinct periods within the polarized years of 2014, 2015, and 2016, and it revealed that, among various findings, the most negative sentiment was consistently observed in the political discourse of both the Far Right and the Far Left.

1 Agathangelou, P., Katakis, I., Lamprini, R., Gunopoulos, D., Richards, B. (2017). “Understanding online political networks: The case of the far-right and far-left in Greece”, Social Informatics: 9th International Conference, SocInfo 2017, Oxford, UK, September 13-15, Proceedings, Part I 9. Springer International Publishing

*Lamprini Rori is Assistant Professor of Political Analysis at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

Note: Within the framework of iMEdD’s research project on the analysis of pre-election political discourse during the first and second election period of 2023, the election speeches of the most recent parliamentary party leaders were examined in each instance. Consequently, it should be noted that the analysis does not encompass the campaign speeches of Yanis Varoufakis in the second election period.

Translation: Anatoli Stavroulopoulou

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