Research & Politics

Public and private beliefs of political leaders: Saddam Hussein in front of a crowd and behind closed doors

Stephen Benedict Dyson, Alexandra L. Raleigh


We ask if the public speech of political leaders is diagnostic of their private beliefs, and investigate through content analysis of the rhetoric of Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq. We collected Saddam’s public speeches and interviews on international affairs from 1977–2000, producing a data set of 330,000 words. From transcripts of Saddam speaking in private, we garnered a comparison corpus of 58,000 words. These text-sets were processed to locate markers of conflict, control and complexity. We find that Saddam’s hostile, conflict-oriented worldview and his perception of himself as a significant political actor was consistent across public and private domains. The major difference between these spheres was his more complex private view of international affairs compared to his more definitive public stance. Our evidence supports the notion that private beliefs can be inferred from the public speech of political leaders.

  • Saddam Hussein
  • political beliefs
  • US–Iraq conflict
  • political leaders

Article Notes

  • Declaration of conflicting interest The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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