Nicholas Beauchamp

Research Interests

American Politics: Political Behavior, Campaigns, Congress, Political Psychology, Online and Social Networks, Political Methodology: Quantitative Text Analysis, Machine Learning, Bayesian Methods, Networks, Agent-based Models, Genetic Algorithms


A new Assistant Professor at Northeastern, I received my PhD from the NYU Department of Politics in September, 2012, specializing in U.S. politics (political behavior, campaigns, opinion, political psychology, social media) and political methodology (quantitative text analysis, machine learning, bayesian methods, agent-based models, networks). My dissertation develops new techniques in text analysis to model the interplay between speech, belief, and behavior in legislatures, campaign advertising, and online communication. My current research projects examine argument and long-term opinion change online; the spread and evolution of ideas over Twitter; and predicting and explaining Supreme Court decisions using the text of legal briefs.

Political beliefs and behaviors are predominantly shaped by the torrents of speech and text surrounding us every day, but existing models only capture tiny fractions of this complex process. My dissertation, Persuasion, Ideology, and Speech: Using automated text analysis to model opinion formation and change, develops new approaches to using text to model the elaborate interplay between speech, belief, and behavior, revealing how speech reflects ideology, affects vote intention, and shapes long-term opinion change. It comprises three parts that show how text can: (1) predict ideology and voting behavior in legislatures; (2) measure, predict, and explain the persuasive effects of political advertisements; and (3) model the strategic arguments and opinion shifts found in political debates online.

Paper 1 shows how records of legislative speech can be used to predict ideology and voting behavior in the US Senate, to measure ideology in legislatures with uninformative voting such as the UK House of Commons, and to detect substantive changes in legislative agendas that are invisible to purely vote-based measures.Paper 2, rather than measuring the effects of opinion on speech, tests the reverse, examining the effects of political advertisements on vote intention in the 2004 presidential election. It develops new techniques to identify out of the large set of attempted campaign strategies a complex subset of effective ones, revealing asymmetric mixtures of affect, policy, issue ownership, negativity, and targeting, and allowing us to predict the persuasive effects of ads based only on their text.Paper 3 proceeds to interactions between speech and belief — interpersonal communication — arguably the most important crucible of opinion. It develops a new model of discussion and political psychology which posits that, rather than merely engaging in competitive agenda-setting or emotional priming, argument often consists of a more deliberative exchange of ideas, facts, and topics that are relevant to, but were missing from, what one’s interlocutor has previously said. A Bayesian topic model is adapted to infer this conceptual network and is applied to data from the largest online political forum to predict the topics of conversational exchanges, and to measure the long-term effects of what discussants hear on their speech and voting behavior.In toto, this work shows how the complex interplay between speech and belief can be modeled using new techniques in text analysis in ways heretofore impossible. It develops a new model of political psychology and language that is predictively useful, and should be broadly applicable to domains such as legislatures, campaigns, and online.

Selected Publications

“A Bottom-up Approach to Linguistic Persuasion in Advertising,” Research Note in The Political Methodologist, Fall 2011

Nicholas Beauchamp, Henry Brady, Richard Fowles, Aviel Rubin, and Jonathan Taylor, 2004: “Findings of an independent panel on allegations of statistical evidence for fraud during the 2004 Venezuelan Presidential recall referendum,” Observing the Venezuela Presidential Recall Referendum: Comprehensive Report, The Carter Center, Atlanta.