Presidential Debate I: The Word Tally

September 27, 2008

The first Obama-McCain debate on the night of September 26 was the first opportunity to see the two candidates talk about the same issues in the same venue.  Using the LIWC text analysis program, the differences in percentage of word categories broke down this way:

Category

Examples

McCain

Obama

 

Interpretation

Word count

 

7115

7612

*

O talks more

Words per sentence

 

16.86

18.08

*

O longer sentences

Big words (over 6 letters)

 

19.75

18.29

*

M bigger words

Personal pronouns

 

9.43

9.66

 

 

   1st person singular

I, me, my

3.49

2.26

*

M more personal

   1st person plural

We, our

3.15

4.62

*

O more formal, distant

   2nd person

You, yours

0.86

1.20

*

O more aggressive, pointed

   3rd person singular

He, she, her

0.86

0.53

 

 

   3rd person plural

They, them

1.08

1.05

 

 

Indefinite pronouns

It, those

6.79

6.96

 

 

Articles

A, the

7.56

6.35

*

M more concrete, less abstract

Verbs

Walk, went

16.01

17.45

*

O more dynamic

Auxiliary verbs

Is, have

10.23

11.36

*

 

   Past tense

Was, gave

4.10

3.74

 

 

   Present tense

Am, is

9.80

12.09

*

O more “here and now”

   Future tense

will

1.19

0.66

 

 

Common adverbs

Very, really

3.71

4.94

*

O more “flowery”

Prepositions

To, for, of

13.83

13.33

 

 

Conjunctions

And, or, whereas

7.70

6.82

 

 

Negations

No, not, never

1.53

2.27

*

O censoring himself, less impulsive

Quantifiers

Much, few

2.21

2.56

 

 

Numbers

Six, 12

1.45

1.94

 

 

Social references

Friend, we, talk

9.49

10.81

*

O more social awareness

Overall emotion words

Happy, hurt, kill

5.72

5.03

 

 

  Positive emotions

Happy, nice

3.29

2.89

*

M more positive

  Negative emotions

Sad, nasty, bad

2.40

2.12

*

M more negative

      Anxiety, fear

Worry, scared

0.18

0.33

 

 

      Anger

Angry, hate

1.08

0.87

 

 

      Sadness

Depressed, cry

0.62

0.25

 

 

Cognitive mechanisms

Think, should

19.06

19.63

 

 

   Insight

Realize, know

1.98

2.10

 

 

   Causal

Because, reason

1.57

2.39

*

O more causal analyses

   DIscrepancy

Would,could

1.69

1.52

 

 

   Tentative

Maybe, perhaps

1.55

1.79

 

 

   Certainty

Absolute, certainly

1.35

1.58

 

 

   Inhibition

Blocked, stop

1.05

0.76

 

 

   Inclusive words

With, and

8.38

7.36

*

 

   Exclusive words

Except, but

2.09

2.86

*

O more cognitively complex

Relativity

Times, going, over

12.21

12.99

 

 

   Motion

Went, fly

1.80

2.21

 

 

   Space

Area, under

5.97

6.53

 

 

   Time

Hour, clock

3.89

4.23

 

 

Content Categories

 

 

 

 

 

Work

Job, paycheck

3.08

2.93

 

 

Achievement

Try, succeed

3.39

2.42

*

M higher in achievement motives

Leisure

Games, tv

0.20

0.25

 

 

Home

Garage, yard

0.30

0.30

 

 

Money

Cash, debt

1.56

2.05

 

 

Religion

God, church

0.18

0.07

 

 

Death

Dead, cemetery

0.31

0.25

 

 

The findings are generally in line with the ways the two candidates have debated in the past. McCain is a bit more emotional, impulsive,  and personal than Obama.  On the other hand, Obama is more abstract and cognitively complex.

JWP

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