MMM Workshop September 2023

Tracing the Sources of Belief Contestation in Policy Debates

Philip Leifeld
Department of Government, University of Essex

14 Sep 2023, 09:00–09:25

Presentation Slides (PDF)


Political actors agree or disagree with other actors on policy beliefs. When aggregated into a policy subsystem, advocacy coalitions with distinct belief systems emerge from actors’ individual policy belief portfolios. Discourse network analysis measures coalitions by considering actors’ stated beliefs. But policy beliefs differ in how important they are in structuring coalitions. To understand the ideational “glue” that binds coalitions together or keeps them apart in any given subsystem, we must identify the joint subset of beliefs that is structurally most important for the coalition structure. We call this subset the backbone of a policy debate and distinguish it from its complement, the set of redundant beliefs. To identify the backbone and redundant set, we introduce a penalized spectral loss function and a custom simulated annealing algorithm to identify the backbone and redundant belief sets by combinatorial optimization. The approach is illustrated using the discourse network of German pension politics.

Relevant publications

Tracing the Sources of Belief Contestation in Policy Debates