Obama and Clinton stump speeches: I and we

February 19, 2008

This is a quick update on how Obama and Clinton are using first person singular (“I”) and plural (“we”) pronouns in their stump speeches.  As noted in some earlier posts, use of I-words has been linked to honesty, being more personal, and being less threatening.  Use of “we” words is generally linked to more psychological distancing between the speaker and the audience — as in the Royal We.

As you can see from the graphs, Obama and Clinton have been shifting in their use of pronouns over the last two months.  The light blue bar refers to pronouns in their January stump speeches and the dark blue are for February.  A number of interesting patterns are emerging.  Whereas Clinton is dropping in her 1st person singular, Obama is increasing. 


As you can see in the second graph, Clinton’s increases in we-words are matched by Obama’s drops.  As is also clear, Clinton is generally using “we” words at far higher rates than is Obama.  There is a certain irony in these findings.  Obama’s mantra is “Yes, we can!” even though  his use of we is modest.

The overall patterns indicate some social and psychological shifts between the two candidates.  Unlike the debates that have occurred so far, the stump speeches are revealing a warmer, more socially connected Obama and a more disconnected Clinton.

Watch Thursday’s debates to see if these patterns maintain themselves.  Some findings (which will be discussed soon ) indicate that The Debater Obama is a different person than The Speech Maker Obama.



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