Asylum and irregular immigration policy preferences in the European Parliament: Automated content analysis of plenary speeches from 2004-2014 using Wordfish

Snorre S. Frid-Nielsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


In the midst of the current refugee crisis, the European Parliament is tasked with representing citizens’ interests in the European policy-making process. However, the European Parliament’s growing legislative influence, and European Union enlargement in 2004, may have fundamentally rearranged the political space of asylum and irregular immigration policy. Furthermore, policy-seeking national parties are increasingly incentivized to keep their representatives in the European Parliament in check, due to their newfound powers and the closeness of the policy area to the core functions of the state. These developments motivate an examination of to what extent different national party policy preferences align with the positions that their Members of European Parliament take in plenary debates on asylum and irregular immigration. This study used the computer-based content analysis method Wordfish to examine 1057 speeches during the 6th and 7th periods of the European Parliament (2004-2014), placing Members of European Parliament within a unidimensional policy space. Wordfish revealed that spoken conflicts over asylum policy predominantly encompass positions for and against EU security measures. The ‘left’ in this dimension is more likely to discuss negative aspects of the refugee crisis and associated conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, while the ‘right’ is more focused on positive mentions of security institutions and cooperation. Further statistical analysis revealed that national parties’ general right-left partisan preferences are the strongest predictor of this positioning, and Members of European Parliament from countries joining the European Union after 2004 are more prone to take pro-security positions. In addition, European Parliament party groups were found to play an important role in explaining European Parliament preferences, with members of the center-right European Peoples Party taking a significantly more pro-security stance. The study highlights that the European Parliament generally faces similar institutional constraints when it votes and speaks on asylum and irregular migration. Overall, Wordfish was found to be an effective and valid method for examining policy preferences in the European Parliament, confirming the growing relevance of computer-based content analysis approaches within political science research.

EducationsInternational Public Administration and Politics, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date28 Jun 2016


  • Wordfish
  • Quantitative text analysis
  • Asylum
  • Immigration
  • European Parliament