Measuring the Public Antecedents of Institutional Change: Quantifying Issue Salience and Tone of Public Discourse through Content Analysis
This paper contributes to this endeavor by measuring and quantifying ideas in terms of issue salience and tone of public discourse in three broad fields: finance, corporate governance, and labor relations. Issue salience enables to track when issues and associated ideas rise and fall in the public conscience, for instance when audit rotation, executive pay, or minority shareholder rights become salient issues. The tone of public discourse related to those issues reveals how positive or negative an issue is portrayed. Taken together, these two measures could illustrate that executive pay turned from a neutral, marginal topic of public debate into a highly salient topic with negative coverage. From this, we can infer that the idea that “excessive executive pay is acceptable” has been tarnished and is being challenged and potentially supplanted by the idea that “excessive executive pay is inappropriate.”
The method used to measure issue salience follows the approach of Culpepper (2011), Jones and Baumgartner (2005) and Smith (2000), which measures the number of articles found in national newspapers for a given set of keywords. Relevant keywords are defined through an inductive, iterative process for 15 issue areas across the three institutional spheres mentioned earlier. The newspaper search is conducted across four countries (US, UK, Germany, Switzerland), using one center-left and one center-right national quality newspaper in each country, in yearly intervals between 1995 and 2013. The tone of discourse is measured through content analysis following the approach of Tetlock (2007) and Tetlock et al (2008). Here, the full-text articles returned in the issue salience search are analyzed for the occurrence of ‘negative’ words using a dictionary created for this purpose by Loughran & McDonald (2011).