Leah Cathryn Windsor, Ph.D.


University of Memphis

Phone: 901-355-7791

Address: 356 Innovation Drive

City: Memphis, Tennessee - 38152

Country: United States

About Me:

Dr. Leah Windsor is a Research Assistant Professor in the Institute for Intelligent Systems at The University of Memphis. She received her Bachelor of Science in Linguistics from Georgetown University in 1998, her Master’s degree in Political Science at The University of Memphis in 2005, and her Ph.D. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in 2012. Dr. Windsor currently serves as PI for a Minerva Initiative grant administered by the U.S. Department of Defense that examines political communication in authoritarian regimes and opaque political groups. Her work uses computational linguistics and discourse analysis to answer questions about regime survival, political crisis and conflict, propaganda and persuasion, bluffs and threats, governance, and radicalization. Her interdisciplinary approach to understanding political language is situated at the intersection of political science, psychology, cognitive science, computer science, neurobiology, methodology, and linguistics. Dr. Windsor was selected as Smart City Fellow with the City of Memphis and the FedEx Institute of Technology where she analyzes issues in local Memphis politics. She is also interested in issues of bias and ethnocentrism in studying political language, including corpus selection, translation, and document preparation. In February 2017, Dr. Windsor’s lab was selected for a Team Initiation Grant by the University of Memphis’ Division of Research and Sponsored Programs to study how multimodal forms of communication including language, nonverbal cues, and audiovisual elements, can inform our understanding of methods of persuasion, elements of cognition, keys to decoding deception, and locus of attention. Dr. Windsor is also co-authoring a book on family formation in academia that presents research from an international survey about academic parents. Most recently she was invited to present her work to the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Defense. Her work has been published in Terrorism and Political Violence, International Interactions, The International Feminist Journal of Politics, and Political Research Quarterly. Sh

Research Interests

Text as Data

Political Communication

Conflict Processes & War

Political Violence

Research Methods & Research Design

Comparative Political Institutions

Computational Discourse Analysis

Quantitative Methods


Countries of Interest

North Korea





My Research:

Dr. Leah Windsor uses a computational linguistics approach to political text, especially for discourse in authoritarian regimes and other opaque international environments, such as non-state actor groups. This includes the language of violent actors such as terrorists, genocidaires, dictators, as well as the language of nonviolent social movements. Using a suite of computational tools, Dr. Windsor conjointly analyzes the syntax, semantics, sentiment, and topical issues to understand patterns of personality, deception, and persuasion that international actors use to accomplish their goals. Her interdisciplinary work is situated at the intersection of international relations, political methodology, computational linguistics, cognitive science, and psychology.


Journal Articles:

(2017) Populism and Popular Support: Vertical Accountability, Exogenous Events, and Leader Discourse in Venezuela., Political Research Quarterly

As a populist leader, Hugo Chavez famously used emotionally charged populist rhetoric to appeal to a broad base of poor and working-class Venezuelans. Was his choice of linguistic discourse a tool of popular control, response to public opinion, or both? Answering this question sheds light on the effectiveness of classical democratic conceptions of vertical accountability for populist leaders. Using a theoretical framework incorporating macro implications of Zaller’s RAS model, the concept of Erikson, Mackuen, and Stimson’s mood, and latent public opinion, we develop several competing expectations regarding rhetoric and presidential approval in Venezuela. Using computational sentiment analysis on a unique dataset of transcripts from Chavez’s Aló Presidente broadcasts, we evaluate Chavez’s quarterly public approval ratings with VAR and Koyck models. Results indicate presidential approval levels are causally linked to not only exogenous economic factors but also leader discourse. Results also indicate that leader language is not shaped by approval levels, illustrating the power of messaging and media control for populist leaders and the potential limits of democratic accountability.

(2017) The Language of Radicalization: Female Internet Recruitment to Participation in ISIS Activities, Terrorism and Political Violence

Why do young Muslim women radicalize and undertake high-risk political behaviors, and what factors influence their sociopolitical transformation? The process of radicalization happens because of individual, social, and political dynamics, and is facilitated by the availability of computer-mediated communication. Some young Muslim women keep detailed records of their radicalization process via social media, which we use to understand their sociopolitical transformation. By evaluating their language, we can better understand how their personal, social, and political development unfolds. This paper is a case study examining the words of one young Muslim woman, Aqsa Mahmood, who moved from her home in Scotland to join the ISIS fighters in Syria. Her Tumblr blog provides a linguistic, political, and ideological record of the process of her radicalization. We identify linguistic patterns in her blog posts that can help to develop and reveal a typology of the language of female radicalization.

(2017) Leader Language and Political Survival Strategies in the Arab Spring., International Interactions

Authoritarian leaders’ language provides clues to their survival strategies for remaining in office. This line of inquiry fits within an emerging literature that refocuses attention from state-level features to the dynamic role that individual heads of state and government play in international relations, especially in authoritarian regimes. The burgeoning text-as-data field can be used to deepen our understanding of the nuances of leader survival and political choices; for example, language can serve as a leading indicator of leader approval, which itself is a good predictor of leader survival. In this paper, we apply computational linguistics tools to an authoritarian leader corpus consisting of 102 speeches from nine leaders of countries across the Middle East and North Africa between 2009-2012. We find systematic differences in the language of these leaders, which help advance a more broadly applicable theory of authoritarian leader language and tenure.

(2015) Computational Linguistics Analysis of Leaders during Crises in Authoritarian Regimes, Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict

We investigated linguistic patterns in the discourse of three prominent autocratic leaders whose tenure lasted for multiple decades. The texts of Fidel Castro, Zedong Mao, and Hosni Mubarak were analyzed using a computational linguistic tool (Coh-Metrix) to explore persuasive linguistic features during social disequilibrium and stability. The analyses were guided by the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion, which contrasts central versus peripheral routes to persuasion. Results show these leaders utilize the central persuasion route, with more formal discourse patterns during times of crises versus non-crises. A significant interaction between leader age and armed conflict revealed interesting adaptive characteristics. Specifically, leaders' formality decreases over time in both crises and non-crises times, but this attenuation is less prominent during crisis periods. The implications of these results are discussed in the context of using computational linguistics analyses to generate potential predictive models of social disequilibrium and to advance our understanding of authoritarian regimes.

(2014) The Language of Autocrats: Leaders’ Language in National Crises, Risk Hazards and Crisis in Public Policy

Recent research has shown that natural disasters present political problems for societies, as these events make both citizens and leaders vulnerable. Autocratic leaders use language strategically following natural disasters to maximize their time in office. We introduce a new data set derived from using computational linguistic programs (LIWC and Coh-Metrix) to explore language patterns in the discourse of three prominent political leaders to uncover their strategies for navigating the political and social problems created by natural disasters, which help to preserve their political leadership over several decades. Our analysis covers the speeches of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, Commander Fidel Castro, and President Hosni Mubarak. We show that leaders’ language reveals their preferences and strategies for accommodating the social, political, and economic shocks created by natural disasters through unifying, blaming, and sense-making strategies. Our results provide insight into how autocratic leaders’ language reflects these three strategies.

Media Appearances:

TV Appearances:

(2017) The University of Memphis Magazine

More Than Words: UofM researcher Leah Windsor keeps a pulse on the political landscape by studying patterns of language used by leaders of democracies and dictatorships.

(2017) WMCTV Interview.

Dr. Leah Windsor discusses language of leaders in democracies and dictatorships.

(2017) Trouw

Article in Trouw (April 21, 2017).by Janne Chaudron.

(2016) Memphis Flyer

Memphis Flyer (November 7, 2016) interview with Toby Sells

(2014) The University of Memphis President’s Report

The University of Memphis President’s Report (November 30, 2014).