Texas debates: New turns for Clinton and Obama

February 21, 2008

For the last month, the stump speeches for Clinton and Obama have shifted in Obama’s favor.  Most striking have been Obama’s increase in 1st person singular pronouns (I, me, my) — which suggest warmth, honesty, and vulnerability — with corresponding decreases in 1st person plural (we, us, our).  We-words hint at the Royal We where the speaker is distant and perhaps a bit condescending.  Just as Obama was becoming more personal, Clinton was going the other way — fewer I’s and more We’s (see the February 18 post).

Particularly perplexing has been how the two speak in debates.  For the January debates, Clinton has used somewhat fewer “I” words and has been fairly similar to Obama in the We-category.  The February 21 debate in Austin, Texas suggests some interesting shifts in both candidates’ speech patterns. 



As you can see in the first graph, the most recent debate shows that Clinton (in red) has evidenced a large jump in I-words whereas Obama (in blue) has dropped.  Psychologically, this hints that Clinton is showing a more vulnerable and perhaps human side at the same time that Obama is becoming somewhat more formal and less personal.

Use of we words continues to be a bit ambiguous. Clinton is still using we-words at high rates whereas Obama is dropping in them.  As a general rule, the more a politician uses we-words, the less positively he or she is viewed.


Finally, check out the emotional language trends for both candidates.  For the last two debates, Clinton has been far more positive and optimistic than Obama.  Similarly, Clinton is using far fewer negative emotion words.

Indeed, in the debates themselves, Obama has been consistently more negative in his emotional tone that Clinton.  As a general rule, people prefer speakers who use high rates of positive emotion words and low rates of negative emotions words.


In the Linguistic Playoffs, then, we pronounce the Winner of the Texas Democratic Debate to be Hillary Clinton.  Keep in mind that the patterns for the debates aren’t closely matching those of the stump speeches nor the T.V. ads you may be watching.  But if you were absolutely truly uncommitted and had no preconceptions of the candidates and you didn’t listen to the subtance of what they were talking about (oh, and you ignored their tone of voice and what they looked like), we feel that you would agree with our conclusions.



One Response to “Texas debates: New turns for Clinton and Obama”

  1. Yitai Says:

    It is really interesting and what a shocking pronouncement, especially for a foreigner.
    And I have a question about the explanation to this article.

    In the last graph, Clinton showed less rate of negative emotion than Obama did.
    However, Clinton lashed out to Obama and she said, “Shame on you”.

    The intensity of the word ‘shame’ can not be totally represented on the rate of negative emotion. Those of high intensity or arousal words, such as shame, may make voters disfavor the candidate. That means, using less rate of high intensity words may cause more dislike than using higher rate of low intensity ones.

    If it is true, is the explanation effective enough to change the prediction?
    And do we have to take the weighted rate toward those of specific words?

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