Pronouns of the debates: I and we

January 20, 2008

The ways people use pronouns tells us how they are viewing themselves and their social worlds.  The analysis of five Republican and Democratic debates (June 2007, November 2007, December 2007, and two January 2008) were analyzed by each major candidate’s use of pronouns.  Not surprisingly, each candidate reveals a different side to the audience.

Use of I versus We.  Previous studies show that the use of 1st person singular (I, me, mine) is associate with:

  • honesty
  • being personal, more self-reflective
  • low in dominance, less threatening
  • less happy

In previous elections, Bush used “I” words at much higher rates than either Gore or Kerry; Bill Clinton used them more than Bush 41 or Dole.  Check out the graph.

  • iwords.jpg

Use of 1st person plural (we, us, our…) is even more diagnostic within a political context.  Within a political debate or speech context, people who use high rates of we-words are:

  • psychologically distant, less able to emotionally connect with the audience
  • often use “we” to mean “you”
  • more arrogant

Check out the second graph. 

 1st person plural (we, us, our)

You see that Obama, McCain, and Romney are the highest along these dimensions.

The I versus We ratio.  One more way to look at I and we is to compute a ratio where I-use is divided by the sum of I plus We.  Based on previous elections, the higher the ratio (that is, the relatively more use of I), the more likely the person was to get elected.  Overall, Clinton and Edwards are the highest by far with Obama the lowest.

1st person pronoun conclusions.  Don’t bet the farm just yet but the pronoun count strongly favors Hillary Clinton.  Someone should have a little chat with Obama about his vague overuse of “we”.  Who is the “we” he keeps referring to? Is he using this as code for “you”?



One Response to “Pronouns of the debates: I and we”

  1. mcfadden Says:

    how amusing

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