Changing standards or political whim? Evaluating changes in the content of US State Department Human Rights Reports following presidential transitions

Rebecca Cordell, K. Chad Clay, Christopher J. Fariss, Reed M. Wood, Thorin M. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The annual US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices represents one of the principal data sources used to generate multiple commonly used human rights measures. Despite the frequency with which these indicators are used in quantitative studies of human rights, scholars have rarely considered how the qualitative information in the source has varied over time. We contribute to this area of research by investigating the general changes in the amount of information included in the reports as well as the administration-specific changes in this information. Using automated text analysis techniques, we find that the amount of information in the reports generally increases over time. However, our analysis also reveals that the rate (and direction) of change varies across different human rights topics and across presidential administrations. Consequently, we find evidence to support a changing standard of accountability as well as evidence that political considerations shape human rights reporting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Human Rights
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law

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