DP11516 Reading Between the Lines: Prediction of Political Violence Using Newspaper Text

Author(s): Hannes Felix Mueller, Christopher Rauh
Publication Date: September 2016
Keyword(s): Civil War, conflict, Forecasting, Latent Dirichlet Allocation, Machine Learning, panel data, Topic Models
JEL(s): C81, H12, H56, O11
Programme Areas: Development Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=11516

This article provides a new methodology to predict armed conflict by using newspaper text. Through machine learning, vast quantities of newspaper text are reduced to interpretable topics. We propose the use of the within-country variation of these topics to predict the timing of conflict. This allows us to avoid the tendency of predicting conflict only in countries where it occurred before. We show that the within-country variation of topics is an extremely robust predictor of conflict and becomes particularly useful when new conflict risks arise. Two aspects seem to be responsible for these features. Topics provide depth because they consist of changing, long lists of terms which makes them able to capture the changing context of conflict. At the same time topics provide width because they summarize all text, including coverage of stabilizing factors.