Cleveland Democratic debate: We have a tie

February 27, 2008

The February 26 debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama resulted in the two candidates’ talking in very similar ways. As a refresher, speakers are generally thought to be closer to the audience if they use high rates of “I” words, low rates of “we” words, lots of positive emotion and low levels of negative emotion words.

Compared to the Austin debate of last week, Clinton has lost whatever advantage she may have had over Obama within the debate itself. Check out the graphs below. The results are self-explanatory.

Two aspects of these analyses stand out. First, Clinton and Obama are converging on every dimension of language compared to earlier debates. This is an example of Language Style Matching (or LSM) — something that happens when both people are directly talking with and to each other.

Second, both candidates are showing spectacular drops in 1st person singular, 1st person plural, and both positive and negative emotions compared to other debates. As was apparent from the television images, this was a much more sober, less theatrical performance by both candidates.

Given the similarity in the word use of Obama and Clinton in pronouns and emotion words, the WordWatchers team officially concludes that this debate was a tie.

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