Kayla N. Jordan
University of Texas at Austin
Kavita Vedhara and Pamela Pepper
The University of Nottingham

Less than 2 months ago the UK’s prime minister, Theresa May, made the unexpected decision to hold a snap election. The elections will take place this week and has ostensibly been called in response to division in Westminster that she believes threaten future Brexit negotiations. As the UK begins the process of leaving the EU, the voters are expected to elect a leader from one of the two main parties in the country: the Conservatives led by Theresa May and the Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn. After the surprising Brexit vote and U.S. election of Donald Trump, elections around the world have drawn attention for growing populism and isolationism. So as election day grows closer, we look at what the language of May and Corbyn reveals about them and the types of leaders they may be.

While Theresa May refused to take part in traditional debates, both May and Corbyn participated in three Q&A events interacting with both media figures and regular voters. These took place between May 22 and June 2 and will be the basis for our analysis. Furthermore, to put this in context we compare these Q&A events to pre-election interviews by recent prime ministers, Tony Blair and David Cameron, as well as to the 2016 general election debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Specifically, we look at how these candidates compare on three dimensions: thinking style, clout, and authenticity.

Thinking Style

When trying to better understand political candidates, one interesting facet to consider is their thinking style. Do they approach problems in an analytic, logical way or are they more intuitive and narrative in their style? In recent American politics, Donald Trump has stood out as being an exceptionally intuitive, informal thinker both as a candidate and as a president. So where do the current British candidates stand on this measure?

Between the two candidates, Theresa May is less analytic than Jeremy Corbyn. However, both are more analytic than recent British prime ministers, Tony Blair and David Cameron, as well as recent U.S. presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. While May lays out her ideas in a somewhat simpler fashion compared to Corbyn, no matter who wins the election, the next British prime minister is likely to have a different thinking style than recent UK prime ministers and a vastly different style to the current American president, Donald Trump.

analytic graph

Confidence and Clout

Another interesting facet of political leadership is how confident they are. We know from past research that those who confident and high status tend to use more we-words (e.g. we, our) and social words (e.g. friend, ally, group) while using fewer I-words (e.g. my, mine), negations (e.g. no, not, never), and swear words. Since calling for the election when she had relatively high levels of support, Theresa May has seen the election become very close with some polls suggest that the gap between Labour and Conservative is shrinking. So has the narrowing of the polls impacted either May or Corbyn’s confidence?

Despite the slides in the polls, May has remained more confident than Corbyn. Over time, May’s confidence has remained stable while Corbyn became more confident as election day draws closer (70.6 to 75.5). However, it is interesting to note that compared to previous UK prime ministers, both May and Corbyn are more confident in talking about the issues they face. May, in particular, resembles recent American candidates more than past British PMs.

clout graph


A final dimension worth looking at is authenticity. When confronted with questions, are the candidates sincere and straightforward or evasive and impersonal? Authentic individuals tend to use more I-words, present-tense verbs, and relativity words (e.g. old, far, here) and fewer she-he words and discrepancies (e.g. could, should). So how do May and Corbyn compare?

Both May and Corbyn are relatively inauthentic particularly compared to recent PMs, Blair and Cameron. When faced with difficult questions such as broken promises by May or IRA connections with Corbyn, both candidates have sounded evasive and distant. Interestingly, May and Corbyn are quite similar to Donald Trump when it comes to authenticity.

Throughout his campaign and after his election, Trump generally came across as a authentic and personal (even if he was often objectively incorrect). However, during the general election, following the scandal with the leaked Access Hollywood tape, Trump was less authentic in the later debates. While not so extreme, both May and Corbyn also have criticisms they have to endure and these appear to have impacted their authenticity during these events.

authenticity graph

The Big Picture

So what do we know about the two major candidates, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn? May is a more intuitive thinker and more confident in her position but relatively inauthentic. Corbyn is also relatively inauthentic, but is much more of an analytic thinker; and while he is showing less confidence than may, this is growing. While in U.S. elections intuitive and confident individuals tend to do better in elections, the situation and electorate in the UK could favor a different type of candidate so we shall have to wait to see whether the more confident, intuitive May will be victorious or the more analytic, increasingly confident Corbyn will prevail.

No matter which candidate ends up as prime minister it is interesting to note that the next British prime minister will be a departure from other recent PMs. Compared to Blair and Cameron, May and Corbyn are both more analytic, more confident, and less authentic than their predecessors. In fact when it comes to confidence and authenticity, May and Corbyn are more like their recent American counterparts, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, than recent British PMs. While there are obvious difference between May and Corbyn, they both are likely to be different types of leaders than their recent predecessors.

Helpful Resources:

Newman, M. L., Pennebaker, J. W., Berry, D. S., & Richards, J. M. (2003). Lying words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 29(5), 665-675.

Kacewicz, E., Pennebaker, J. W., Davis, M., Jeon, M., & Graesser, A. C. (2014). Pronoun use reflects standings in social hierarchies. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 33(2), 125-143.

Pennebaker, J. W. “The secret life of pronouns: How our words reflect who we are.” New York: Bloomsbury (2011).

Pennebaker, J. W., Boyd, R. L., Jordan, K., & Blackburn, K. (2015). The development and psychometric properties of LIWC2015. liwc.net

Pennebaker, J. W., Chung, C. K., Frazee, J., Lavergne, G. M., & Beaver, D. I. (2014). When small words foretell academic success: The case of college admissions essays. PloS one, 9(12), e115844.


Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

After just over a month in office, Donald Trump gave his first address to Congress. The content of Trump’s address was similar to past presidents’ State of the Union (SOTU) addresses with a focus on recent accomplishments and plans for the upcoming year. But what about the style of the speech?

Unlike his inaugural address which was linguistically similar to Trump’s typical language, his recent address was more analytic and less authentic than normal. Similar to his RNC acceptance speech, Trump’s first SOTU was heavily shaped by a speechwriter. Although the content of the address overlapped considerably with Steve Bannon’s recurring themes of fear of outsiders, the linguistic markers were quite similar to the language of Stephen Miller in a recent interview on Face the Nation.  Despite Miller’s probable role in the address, Trump’s latest speech is useful in understanding overall trends in the presidency and where Trump fits in.

Decline in Analytic Thinking

Similar to trends in inaugural addresses, SOTU speeches are generally highly analytic and formal, but have been becoming less so over time. Starting with Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, modern presidents have adopted a more informal, narrative style in their annual addresses to Congress. Trump’s first address continued this trend with his level of analytic thinking on par with the last 5 presidents.

The decline in analytic thinking signals a shift in how presidents are thinking about problems and presenting their ideas. Trump, like other recent presidents, laid out his ideas in a simpler, more straightforward way than past presidents. Going forward, Trump will likely rely more and more on offering simple, intuitive solutions and ideas to the problems he faces.


Rise in Confidence

The language presidents use can show how confident and self-certain they are as leaders. Confidence or clout is indicated by more we-words and social words and fewer I-words, negations (e.g. no, not), and swear words.

Whereas analytic thinking has decreased over the last century, clout has increased. Around the same time presidents began becoming less analytic, they also started to exude more confidence. Presidents have increasingly approached these addresses to Congress with confidence and certainty. Trump is the most confident so far, but is still similar to recent presidents. Trump and other modern presidents are decisive and confident in their plans and proposals.


The Big Picture

In their SOTU addresses, presidents have been becoming more confident and less analytic. These trends show that presidents are changing how they are thinking and interacting with lawmakers and the American people. Administration after administration, the yearly SOTU addresses are laying out simpler and less nuanced world views with bolder more decisive proposals. Faced with complex, hard-to-solve problems, clear and easy solutions are likely more appealing to present to an increasingly polarized Congress (and electorate).

While Trump is often seen as a significant departure from presidential norms, in many ways, he isn’t all that different than other modern presidents. Rather than being an extreme outlier, Trump is part of long-term trends. He is a more confident, intuitive thinker, but Obama and Bush were as well. The content of what Trump is saying may be abnormal, but the style is typical of recent presidents.

Trump’s Inaugural Address

January 21, 2017

Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

After an unconventional campaign, Trump gave an equally unique inaugural address. In keeping with his populist connection with the voters, Trump spoke in a direct, nuance-free style against the Washington elites and promising to “Make America Great Again.”

Unlike his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention which was clearly not written by him, Trump (or a speechwriter with a good grasp of Trump’s language style) was the primary author of his inaugural address.  Linguistically, it was quite similar to the ways he spoke in his stump speeches, interviews, and debates.  Consequently, the conclusions we have reached about his personality and thinking styles in the past are only reinforced after his ascension to the presidency.

Trump is Intuitive and not at all Analytical

In their inaugural addresses, presidents tend to show an analytic thinking style. They generally lay out their ideas in a formal, logical manner. Beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, modern presidents have adopted increasingly informal and narrative styles than their predecessors. Trump, however, has broken new ground in simple and intuitive thinking.  As depicted in the graph below, no American president has been so low in analytic thinking.

Consistent with all of his debates, Trump is not capable of more logical and hierarchical thinking. He has rarely made an if-then statement. As evidenced through his tweeting, he is a fast decision maker driven by intuition and hunches.  Because of this, scholars must pay particularly close attention to the values that are guiding him — nationalism, isolationism, wealth, security, hard work, and deal-making. When confronted with a difficult decision, he will likely be guided by advisors or the core values that are salient to him at the moment.


Trump is Authentic

Several studies have identified a set of word categories that are associated with people telling the truth.  For example, I-words (e.g., I, me, my) often signal that the person is speaking from the heart.  Interestingly, when we listen to a person who uses authenticity language, we are more likely to believe them.  They come across as more personal and understanding.

From the first debate over 18 months ago, Trump has consistently used words associated with authenticity at very high rates.  Indeed, this is his appeal.  He shoots from the hip and many people feel he is talking directly to them.  Presidents have differed widely in the authenticity of their inaugural addresses. Presidents such as Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, surprisingly, gave straightforward addresses clearly laying out their thoughts. Other presidents such as Eisenhower and Truman were more distant and impersonal in their speeches. As shown in the figure below, Trump rivals George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington in his use of authentic language.

Warning:  Authentic language does not always mean honest or truthful.  LBJ and Nixon may have spoken in authentic ways in their inaugural addresses but history has judged both men as wily and devious in their attempts to get legislation passed. Trump has a long history of making up often-outlandish facts and talking about them with complete sincerity.  His language suggests that he actually believes them.  In fact, evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has done a beautiful analysis of deception arguing that the most deceptive people (and other animals) are successful because they are self-deceptive.

Trump, then, may be objectively deceptive but his language reveals that he is generally an authentic individual. He says what he believes without trying to be evasive. He is quick to respond with his open and honest opinion be it during a press conference or on Twitter. For Trump, there is no hiding behind rhetoric.


The Big Picture

Trump’s inaugural address reflects his unorthodox campaign and likely signals the beginning of a different approach to the presidency. Trump continues to buck conventions and differentiate himself from the prototypical politician. His language in the campaign was a stunning departure from the political norms.  It is unsurprising that his first speech as president veered so far from the norms.

The language in Trump’s inaugural address matches his language from the election debates suggesting how he approached the campaign is likely to be how he approaches the presidency. Trump likely won’t change his style to appease critics or garner support; he simply is who he is: a straightforward individual who speaks his mind and relies on his gut instincts. Given this remarkable consistency of Trump’s language, the president will likely continue to be an unique political figure.

Helpful References

Ho, S. M., Hancock, J. T., Booth, C., Liu, X., Timmarajus, S. S., & Burmester, M. (2015, May). Liar, Liar, IM on Fire: Deceptive language-action cues in spontaneous online communication. In Intelligence and Security Informatics (ISI), 2015 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 157-159). IEEE.

Newman, M. L., Pennebaker, J. W., Berry, D. S., & Richards, J. M. (2003). Lying words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 29(5), 665-675.

Pennebaker, J. W. “The secret life of pronouns: How our words reflect who we are.” New York: Bloomsbury (2011).

Pennebaker, J. W., Chung, C. K., Frazee, J., Lavergne, G. M., & Beaver, D. I. (2014). When small words foretell academic success: The case of college admissions essays. PloS one, 9(12), e115844.

Trivers, Robert. The folly of fools: The logic of deceit and self-deception in human life. Basic Books, 2011.

Kayla N. Jordan
University of Texas at Austin

Last night Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debated for the final time before election day. Since the first debate of the general election, Clinton has been steadily gaining ground while Trump has been bogged down in scandals and conflict. Have their changes in circumstance influenced their language? Has Trump become less authentic? Has Clinton become even more positive? Here we analyze the candidates’ authenticity, emotional tone, and analytic thinking one last time as the election comes to a close.


As we discussed in the post on the first presidential debate, people who are authentic tend to use I-words, present-tense verbs, and relativity words more and she-he words and discrepancies less. In the primary debates, both Clinton and Trump spoke relatively straightforward manner. In the general election debates, the candidates have changed direction.

As shown in the graph below, Clinton has been consistently inauthentic in the general election debates. In the midst of multiple recurrent scandals and criticisms of her aloof personality, Clinton can sound evasive and inauthentic as she tries sidestep attacks and appeal to a wider range of voters.  On the other hand, Trump remained straightforward and authentic in the first debate. However, after the major scandal with the leaked audio and sexual assault allegations, Trump’s authenticity in the last two debates has been markedly lower. The latest scandals seem to have hurt Trump’s ability to “tell it like it is.”


Emotional Tone

Since the general election debates have begun, Clinton and Trump have differed widely in their emotional tone. Clinton has maintained her upbeat, positive outlook from the primaries while Trump has developed an increasingly dark, pessimistic tone. Did the candidates change at all in the final debate?

Looking at the graph below, both candidates are consistent with their past trends. No amount of personal attacks or scandal can shake Clinton’s sense of optimism. She stays on her message that America is already great and she can help make it better. Trump, on the other hand, continued his pessimistic decline. Trump paints a much darker view of America and aggressively meets challenges and criticisms.


Analytic Thinking

We have examined the candidates’ thinking styles at several points throughout the election cycle showing how some candidates are analytic, logical thinkers whereas others are more intuitive, narrative thinkers. Throughout the debates, Clinton and Trump have demonstrated strikingly different styles.

As seen in the graph below, Clinton has generally been a formal, logical thinker focused on issues and policy positions. She deviated slightly in the beginning of the general election debates speaking in a more intuitive manner possibly to come across as more personable. In the final debate, she returned a more analytic way of speaking. Trump, conversely, has consistently had an intuitive style. Trump throws out ideas in an unstructured, informal manner relying more on anecdotes and stories than facts and figures.


The Big Picture

The debates are officially over and the candidates only have a couple more weeks to gather support. As the long election season draws to a close, the language through these debates have shown stark differences between the candidates. Furthermore, throughout the twists and turns of the campaigns, the candidates have remained largely consistent in their debate language. So what do we know about the candidates?

Clinton. Clinton’s language suggests an optimistic and analytic candidate. For her, things are good and can be made better by policies and proposals developed through careful, logical planning.  While Clinton’s language stays relatively stable, her language shifts in the general election debates could indicate an ability to change in order to address problems she faces. Like many politicians, she can come across as inauthentic and evasive particularly in the face of scandal.

Trump. Trump’s language, conversely, suggests a pessimistic, intuitive candidate. For him, the nation is a broken place with much to fix with intuitive solutions and straight talk. Like Clinton, Trump’s language is quite consistent with shifts in tone seeming to highlight differences between himself and his opponent’s worldviews. Also like Clinton, Trump is not immune to the effects of scandals with the latest charges bringing out an evasiveness in Trump which was not seen in the primaries or early general election.

Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

After one of the biggest scandals of the election season so far, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met in debate for the second time. While Clinton has seen substantial gains in the polls since the first debate, Trump has been steadily losing ground with many of his own party withdrawing support in the days after the latest scandal. Did these changes in the campaigns affect the candidate’s in last night’s debate? Here we examine how the tone of the candidates as well as their sense of status may have shifted.

Emotional Tone

As with the first debate, both of the candidates launched attacks on their opponent. There were even questions addressing the negativity in the current election. Did the language in the last debate show any increasing negativity?

The graph below shows how the candidates’ emotional tones have shifted from the primary debates to the first general election debate to the most recent debate. The language of both candidates in the primaries was relatively optimistic and upbeat. As they headed into first debate with Trump trailing in the polls, Clinton maintained that sense of optimism whereas Trump’s language took a pessimistic turn. In the latest debate, Trump fell further into negativity where Clinton retained her positivity.



People who are high in clout speak confidently with a sense of certainty. They tend to use we-words and social words more while using I-words, negations (e.g. no, not), and swear words less.

Historically, both Trump and Clinton have addressed their audiences with a relatively high degree of confidence. While they were still battling their primary opponents at the time, both were consistently in the top of the field lending a sense of power in their position. In the first Clinton-Trump debate, Clinton’s word usage suggested a greater sense of status or power whereas Trump’s language was more hesitating and weak. In last night’s second debate, the candidates’ language styles reversed.  Despite his recent difficulties, Trump’s words revealed greater confidence that Clinton’s.


The Big Picture

With little time left before election day, the candidates are running out of time to gain votes. Given numerous difficulties, both are dealing with the fallout and managing voters’ perceptions. The ways in which their language has shifted suggest different reactions to their campaigns’ problems.

Donald Trump is speaking with increasing certainty and confidence but, at the same time, revealing darker and more pessimistic tones. While Trump’s scandals have garnered more attention, Hillary Clinton is not without problems of her own. In contrast to Trump, she is maintaining an optimistic tone but speaking with less certainty.

Linguistic features of candidates are very poor predictors of their electability.  Sometimes we want a warm, approachable leader and other times we want a no-nonsense autocrat. Sometimes, we just want a change. Just paying attention to their words can tell us a great deal about their personalities but much less how effective they will be in governing a nation.

The 2016 election cycle has baffled researchers across the political spectrum. Donald Trump is an aberration rarely seen at the highest levels of politics.  Linguistically, he is authentic and supremely confident but at the same time simple and not concerned with logical or formal reasoning.  There are times when we seek someone like this.  If we are buying a new car and we know nothing about cars, the salesperson who comes across as authentic, confident, and doesn’t bog us down with details can be extremely appealing.  And if the salesperson assures us, “trust me, I know more about cars than anyone”, how could we go wrong?

Trump’s appeal gets at the heart of the human psyche.  In an increasingly complex world, no one has an great understanding of the implications of major decisions.  Every political, economic, or policy change has major unintended consequences that overwhelm some of the greatest minds of our generation.  At some point, many of us simply turn to that confident new voice that promises a simple, straightforward solution that is guaranteed to work.

Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

On the night of October 4, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence met in the first and only vice presidential debate. Compared to their presidential counterparts, both have stayed out of the limelight and have avoided any significant controversy. Very soon, however, one will soon be first in line for the presidency. What do their words say about them? Are they similar to their presidential partner or radically different?.

We have discussed emotional tone and belief certainty in the blog before, most recently to analyze Clinton and Trump’s acceptance speeches. Emotional tone reflects a candidate’s optimism versus pessimism through the use of positive and negative emotion words. Belief certainty indicates the extent to which candidates are absolutely certain where they stand on various issues versus are still working through issues.  When people are still attempting to understand the complexity of a topic, they tend to use more cognitive processing words like think, know, and believe. Those who think they know Truth don’t need such words.

Emotional Tone

In an election spawning many insults and personal attacks, the emotional tone of Clinton and Trump has been surprisingly positive throughout the primary debates. Clinton maintained that optimism in the first general election debate whereas Trump turned more pessimistic. After a week of Clinton gains and Trump losses in the polls, how did their running mate’s sound?

Surprisingly, both VP candidates depart from the tone of their presidential counterparts. In contrast to Trump’s recent negativity, Pence’s words were relatively upbeat and optimistic even if his facial expressions didn’t always match. Kaine, on the other hand, who typically projects a happy and upbeat image, took a more pessimistic, negative tone in the debate opposite to Clinton’s consistent optimistic outlook.


Belief Certainty

Both Clinton and Trump are relatively low in belief certainty. Even in the first general debate, Clinton and Trump used language indicating that they were still processing issues and beliefs. In a debate in which Pence and Kaine focused on the presidential candidates rather than their own positions, it is worth noting if they are processing issues like their running mates’ beliefs or their own.

Kaine and Pence displayed high levels of belief certainty in their debate. Both VP candidates are dedicated to their candidates’ stances and stand by their positions. While Kaine’s certainty is unsurprising given his long standing agreement with Clinton on many issues, Pence’s certainty is somewhat unexpected. Pence initially supported another candidate in the primary and has held many positions in opposition to Trump. Despite past disagreements, Pence has embraced Trump’s views. Based on previous debates by all other candidates during the 2016 election cycle, the level of certainty of Kaine and Pence would qualify them both as “True Believers.”


The Big Picture

Though the vice presidential picks are unlikely to influence the outcome of the election, one of them may well be president one day. Their language in their debate suggest two men who are loyal running mates trying to paint their own candidate in the best light while putting the opposing candidate in the worst light. Kaine’s approach focused on highlighting Trump’s faults whereas Pence tried to defend his candidate presenting an analytic, positive argument for his candidacy.

Not since Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders have we heard candidates speak with such certainty about their positions.  In many ways, very high belief certainty signals a leadership style that is ideological and uncompromising.  If the two VP candidates have adopted their candidates’ views as their own, the text analysis results could be a red flag for voters are looking for an open-minded leader who can compromise across the aisle.  If the candidates were merely speaking with certainty about the presumed beliefs of Clinton and Trump, then the certainty results provide less information about how the VP candidates would think and behave on their own.

Kayla N. Jordan
University of Texas at Austin

According to polls after the debate, many people viewed Hillary Clinton as the winner of the first presidential debate and Donald Trump as underprepared. However, at the beginning of the debate, Clinton got off to a shaky start whereas Trump had a relatively strong beginning. Clinton, eventually, found her footing sounding comfortable and in control while Trump seemed increasingly defensive and uncomfortable. What happened? To answer this question, we look at a linguistic marker of self-confidence: I-words (e.g. I, me, my).

People who are self-confident and secure tend to use fewer I-words. In the primary debates, both Clinton and Trump used I-words at high rates suggesting possible insecurity. In the first third of debate this week, Clinton started off using I-words more frequently than Trump. By the second third of the debate, Clinton’s I-word use dropped dramatically while Trump’s I-word use rose. Clinton’s decline in self-focus suggests a rise in self-confidence where Trump’s language is indicative of a loss of confidence. One possible explanation for their change in confidence is the issues brought up with the first third playing to Trump’s strengths and Clinton’s weaknesses before reversing. Overall, Clinton and Trump vary in the comfortability with the issues and the debate stage.