Who talks most like a…? Presidential Frontrunners and Language Styles
March 6, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
As the competition for the presidential nominations heats up, we delve further into what the candidates’ words reveal about their personalities and psychological states. Using previous research, we explore which candidates sound most (and least) like a liar, a woman, a professor, a depressed person, and a president.
Who talks most like a liar?
In the last debate, Trump dubbed Cruz “Lying Ted”, and it turns out that Cruz does sound most like a liar. Cruz does not come across as a very authentic or trustworthy individual. On the other side, Donald Trump sounds the most honest. He may not be right, but he believes in what he says and says exactly what he thinks.
When people lie or evade the truth, they tend to use more would-should-could words (also called discrepancy words) and third person singular pronouns (he, she). Deception is also linked to the use of fewer I-words, words making distinctions such but and else, insightful words like think and know, words related to motion, space, and time like area and go.
Who talks most like a woman?
Interestingly, it is not Hillary Clinton who talks most like a woman but rather Donald Trump. Trump is a popular guy who is personal and, to many, likable. Who talks most like a man? Bernie Sanders.
Past studies have found reliable differences in how men and women use language. Women tend to use more social and positive emotion words while using fewer big words, negations, articles, and prepositions as well as fewer swear words, references to money, and numbers. A more feminine language style is often viewed as more personal and warm.
Who talks most like a professor?
Ted Cruz sounds most like a professor. Cruz is a smart individual who can juggle complex ideas and form elaborate opinions and policies. At the bottom of this list is Donald Trump. Trump’s speech is straightforward and uncomplicated. Voters may like that he is more accessible, but he may not as much capacity to handle complex issues.
The intellectualism often found in professors is marked by a more frequent use of conjunctions (e.g., and, or, but, because), negations, and words related to causation and insight as well as the use of longer sentences. This intellectual style is linked openness to new experiences and better academic performance. Candidates high in a more intellectual language style may be judged as more competent and capable leaders with ideas and opinions that are more elaborate whereas candidates low in this style may be liked for their straight-forwardness and accessibility.
Who sounds most like a depressed person?
With a focus on everything going wrong in the world, Ted Cruz can appear rather gloomy. To Cruz, the world is a dangerous place with a lot of problems which may not appeal to voters who want a president who is upbeat and hopeful for the future. Despite his campaign struggles, Marco Rubio sounds the least depressed. Like the other candidates he points out all the problems in the world, but he seems more optimistic that they can be solved.
People who are depressed tend to use more references to themselves, more negative emotion words, and fewer positive emotion words. Candidates who use more depressed language come across as more pessimistic and negative. This negativity can turn off voters who typically prefer candidates who are more optimistic and positive.
Who talks like a president?
Hillary Clinton sounds most like a president. Her years of political experience may have placed her at a better vantage point for understanding what a president is like and how to approach this office. Sounding least like a president is Donald Trump. Since the beginning of the race, Trump has been far from a traditional candidate, and his language suggest he is likely to be an untraditional president.
Based on past inaugural speeches, presidents tend to use more articles, prepositions, positive emotion, and big words. Candidates who sound more presidential may be judged by voters to be better suited for the office than candidate who sound less presidential.
Trends and Takeaways
The table below shows where each of the candidates stands on each dimension. Positive numbers indicate the candidate is high on that dimension; negative numbers indicate the candidate is low on that dimension.
The extent to which each candidate talks like a president may best speak to how suitable each candidate may be for the presidency. It is interesting to note that two candidates sounding most presidential are the two Democratic candidates and the top Republican candidate, Trump, is the least presidential sounding.
While it is now known who the most likely nominees from both parties will be, the race is not over yet. As the primary season rolls on, this analysis can further illuminate who these presidential candidates are and what kind of president they might be.
Note: Scores are composites of word categories (using LIWC) mentioned previously and can be interpreted as z-scores relative to other presidential candidates. Positive numbers indicate the candidate is high on that dimension; negative numbers indicate the candidate is low on that dimension.