October 10, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
After one of the biggest scandals of the election season so far, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met in debate for the second time. While Clinton has seen substantial gains in the polls since the first debate, Trump has been steadily losing ground with many of his own party withdrawing support in the days after the latest scandal. Did these changes in the campaigns affect the candidate’s in last night’s debate? Here we examine how the tone of the candidates as well as their sense of status may have shifted.
As with the first debate, both of the candidates launched attacks on their opponent. There were even questions addressing the negativity in the current election. Did the language in the last debate show any increasing negativity?
The graph below shows how the candidates’ emotional tones have shifted from the primary debates to the first general election debate to the most recent debate. The language of both candidates in the primaries was relatively optimistic and upbeat. As they headed into first debate with Trump trailing in the polls, Clinton maintained that sense of optimism whereas Trump’s language took a pessimistic turn. In the latest debate, Trump fell further into negativity where Clinton retained her positivity.
People who are high in clout speak confidently with a sense of certainty. They tend to use we-words and social words more while using I-words, negations (e.g. no, not), and swear words less.
Historically, both Trump and Clinton have addressed their audiences with a relatively high degree of confidence. While they were still battling their primary opponents at the time, both were consistently in the top of the field lending a sense of power in their position. In the first Clinton-Trump debate, Clinton’s word usage suggested a greater sense of status or power whereas Trump’s language was more hesitating and weak. In last night’s second debate, the candidates’ language styles reversed. Despite his recent difficulties, Trump’s words revealed greater confidence that Clinton’s.
The Big Picture
With little time left before election day, the candidates are running out of time to gain votes. Given numerous difficulties, both are dealing with the fallout and managing voters’ perceptions. The ways in which their language has shifted suggest different reactions to their campaigns’ problems.
Donald Trump is speaking with increasing certainty and confidence but, at the same time, revealing darker and more pessimistic tones. While Trump’s scandals have garnered more attention, Hillary Clinton is not without problems of her own. In contrast to Trump, she is maintaining an optimistic tone but speaking with less certainty.
Linguistic features of candidates are very poor predictors of their electability. Sometimes we want a warm, approachable leader and other times we want a no-nonsense autocrat. Sometimes, we just want a change. Just paying attention to their words can tell us a great deal about their personalities but much less how effective they will be in governing a nation.
The 2016 election cycle has baffled researchers across the political spectrum. Donald Trump is an aberration rarely seen at the highest levels of politics. Linguistically, he is authentic and supremely confident but at the same time simple and not concerned with logical or formal reasoning. There are times when we seek someone like this. If we are buying a new car and we know nothing about cars, the salesperson who comes across as authentic, confident, and doesn’t bog us down with details can be extremely appealing. And if the salesperson assures us, “trust me, I know more about cars than anyone”, how could we go wrong?
Trump’s appeal gets at the heart of the human psyche. In an increasingly complex world, no one has an great understanding of the implications of major decisions. Every political, economic, or policy change has major unintended consequences that overwhelm some of the greatest minds of our generation. At some point, many of us simply turn to that confident new voice that promises a simple, straightforward solution that is guaranteed to work.
October 5, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
On the night of October 4, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence met in the first and only vice presidential debate. Compared to their presidential counterparts, both have stayed out of the limelight and have avoided any significant controversy. Very soon, however, one will soon be first in line for the presidency. What do their words say about them? Are they similar to their presidential partner or radically different?.
We have discussed emotional tone and belief certainty in the blog before, most recently to analyze Clinton and Trump’s acceptance speeches. Emotional tone reflects a candidate’s optimism versus pessimism through the use of positive and negative emotion words. Belief certainty indicates the extent to which candidates are absolutely certain where they stand on various issues versus are still working through issues. When people are still attempting to understand the complexity of a topic, they tend to use more cognitive processing words like think, know, and believe. Those who think they know Truth don’t need such words.
In an election spawning many insults and personal attacks, the emotional tone of Clinton and Trump has been surprisingly positive throughout the primary debates. Clinton maintained that optimism in the first general election debate whereas Trump turned more pessimistic. After a week of Clinton gains and Trump losses in the polls, how did their running mate’s sound?
Surprisingly, both VP candidates depart from the tone of their presidential counterparts. In contrast to Trump’s recent negativity, Pence’s words were relatively upbeat and optimistic even if his facial expressions didn’t always match. Kaine, on the other hand, who typically projects a happy and upbeat image, took a more pessimistic, negative tone in the debate opposite to Clinton’s consistent optimistic outlook.
Both Clinton and Trump are relatively low in belief certainty. Even in the first general debate, Clinton and Trump used language indicating that they were still processing issues and beliefs. In a debate in which Pence and Kaine focused on the presidential candidates rather than their own positions, it is worth noting if they are processing issues like their running mates’ beliefs or their own.
Kaine and Pence displayed high levels of belief certainty in their debate. Both VP candidates are dedicated to their candidates’ stances and stand by their positions. While Kaine’s certainty is unsurprising given his long standing agreement with Clinton on many issues, Pence’s certainty is somewhat unexpected. Pence initially supported another candidate in the primary and has held many positions in opposition to Trump. Despite past disagreements, Pence has embraced Trump’s views. Based on previous debates by all other candidates during the 2016 election cycle, the level of certainty of Kaine and Pence would qualify them both as “True Believers.”
The Big Picture
Though the vice presidential picks are unlikely to influence the outcome of the election, one of them may well be president one day. Their language in their debate suggest two men who are loyal running mates trying to paint their own candidate in the best light while putting the opposing candidate in the worst light. Kaine’s approach focused on highlighting Trump’s faults whereas Pence tried to defend his candidate presenting an analytic, positive argument for his candidacy.
Not since Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders have we heard candidates speak with such certainty about their positions. In many ways, very high belief certainty signals a leadership style that is ideological and uncompromising. If the two VP candidates have adopted their candidates’ views as their own, the text analysis results could be a red flag for voters are looking for an open-minded leader who can compromise across the aisle. If the candidates were merely speaking with certainty about the presumed beliefs of Clinton and Trump, then the certainty results provide less information about how the VP candidates would think and behave on their own.
September 30, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan
University of Texas at Austin
According to polls after the debate, many people viewed Hillary Clinton as the winner of the first presidential debate and Donald Trump as underprepared. However, at the beginning of the debate, Clinton got off to a shaky start whereas Trump had a relatively strong beginning. Clinton, eventually, found her footing sounding comfortable and in control while Trump seemed increasingly defensive and uncomfortable. What happened? To answer this question, we look at a linguistic marker of self-confidence: I-words (e.g. I, me, my).
People who are self-confident and secure tend to use fewer I-words. In the primary debates, both Clinton and Trump used I-words at high rates suggesting possible insecurity. In the first third of debate this week, Clinton started off using I-words more frequently than Trump. By the second third of the debate, Clinton’s I-word use dropped dramatically while Trump’s I-word use rose. Clinton’s decline in self-focus suggests a rise in self-confidence where Trump’s language is indicative of a loss of confidence. One possible explanation for their change in confidence is the issues brought up with the first third playing to Trump’s strengths and Clinton’s weaknesses before reversing. Overall, Clinton and Trump vary in the comfortability with the issues and the debate stage.
by Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
After a spirited third debate among the Republicans, we are seeing how the Republicans are shaping up. In this post, we check out how the frontrunners – Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Carly Fiorino, and Ben Carson – compare across the debates in terms of time orientation. Are they stuck in the past, rooted in the present, or looking to the future?
Time orientation is tied to reward sensitivity, impulse control, need for consistency, age, culture, and political orientation. At its core, time orientation tells us where people are looking and how they are relating to events. People focusing on the past are thinking about events that are certain, unchangeable, relatively knowable, and somewhat psychological distant. People who talk about the past rely on historical events when making decisions about about the present and future. Research in our lab also suggests that past-oriented people tend to be relatively liberal, optimistic, and well-adjusted.
People oriented towards the present are thinking about current events that are psychologically close. Present-focused people tend to be more neurotic, depressed, and pessimistic than either past- of future-oriented people. Among students in college, a present-focus predicts poorer class performance — probably because it hampers their ability to look at the big picture.
Future-oriented people focus on events that are not certain or knowable but are changeable and unpredictable and, like past events, are psychologically distant. Our research with thousands of students suggests that a future orientation is associated with general anxiety or worry with a deep sense of responsibility and conscientiousness. Consequently, future orientation can be the result of a need for security, safety, and tradition.
It is relatively easy to measure time orientation by analyzing the words people use in everyday language using our text analysis program, LIWC2015. A past focus includes past tense verbs as well as words such as earlier and yesterday. A present focus includes present tense verbs and words like now and currently. A future focus involves using words such as will, foresee, and plan.
Note. Word frequencies of each time orientation were standardized (z-scored) based on all debate speakers then the standard score was divided by the sum of the absolute values of scores of all time orientations and re-scaled such that a score of 50 represents the average across candidates. Within candidates, scores greater than 50 indicate that time orientation is dominant relative to the other orientations.
The graph is based on the debate language of the five Republican frontrunners in terms of their time orientation. People can be high or low on each of the dimensions. So, for example, Bush is high on both past and future orientation whereas Trump is relatively high on all three. (In fact, Trump’s time orientation is unlike anyone else’s). What’s most interesting, however, is to focus on the highest dimension for each person.
Bush stands out by being the highest in past orientation. It is consistent with his being relatively optimistic and upbeat. And, in comparison to the other candidates, relatively liberal (we’ll keep this little secret to ourselves — his campaign would not like to hear this). In the last debate, Bush focused more on his own past record (and the past mistakes of others) than the other candidates while still keeping an eye to the future.
Carson is unique in having a much higher focus on the present than to the past or future. Such an approach would hint at his not using much evidence from the past or long term considerations about the future in his decisions. As he is a relative newcomer to politics, he could be focusing on pressing, present problems without having a political past to draw from or a clear direction for future goals. Interestingly, this pattern might suggest that he could be more unhappy or worried than he sometimes appears.
Fiorina and Rubio have similar profiles — highest in future orientation and lowest in past. Consistent with other findings, this strategy reflects their deep concerns about security, instability, and the unpredictability of the future. They would like to focus on making plans to improve the future with a sense of responsibility and dedication. Like Carson, this pattern could indicate that Fiorina and Rubio may be more anxious or worried than they let on.
Finally, there is the odd man out — Donald Trump. Trump is slightly higher in future orientation but is still above average in past and present orientation. This pattern suggests that Trump has a more balanced time orientation and may shift his focus depending on the situation or topic. For example, when asked about economic issues in the last debate, Trump often referenced his past in business, but when asked about immigration, he focused more on his plans and goals for the future. Overall, it is premature to characterize Trump along the time dimensions; as he said in the last debate, perhaps he just likes being unpredictable.
Like our last post, these analyses reveal how the candidates are approaching the issues and give a hint as to how they may act if elected. There are a couple of ways in which the current analyses accomplish this. One, they give a sense of how the candidates are orienting their campaigns. Are they stuck rehashing past successes and failures or are they actually looking to the future and planning what they would do if elected? Two, these analyses hint at how the candidates may approach problems. What are the qualities that make a good president — optimism, pessimism, or conscientiousness, perhaps? How might a president with these different qualities approach decisions?
This analysis is only one part of the bigger picture. In weeks ahead as the election season progresses, we will be focusing on different dimensions of language to provide an in-depth, global look at how these political candidates are thinking and behaving.
Guo, T., Ji, L., Spina, R., & Zhang, Z. (2012). Culture, temporal focus, and values of the past and the future. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(8), 1030-1040.
Robinson, M. D., Cassidy, D. M., Boyd, R. L., & Fetterman, A. K. (2015). The politics of time: Conservatives differentially reference the past and liberals differentially reference the future. Journal of Applied Social Psychology,45(7), 391-399. doi:10.1111/jasp.12306
Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (1999). Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1271-1288. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2061
Through Their Words: Hillary, Bernie, and their Republican Friends — Text analysis of the first Democratic Debate
October 14, 2015
by James W. Pennebaker and Kayla N. Jordan
Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin
Computer analyses of the language of the candidates in the most recent debate reveal some basic personality and psychological differences. The primary comparisons are between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as well as the ways they differed from the most likely Republican nominees: Bush, Fiorina, Rubio, and Trump. The main findings include:
- Clinton is much more positive in emotional tone than Sanders. Her levels of positivity are comparable to the most positive Republican, Jeb Bush.
- Sanders is somewhat more of an analytical, formal thinker than Clinton. All the candidates, however, are reasonably similar with the exception of Donald Trump — who appears incapable of thinking in a formal, logical way.
- Sanders and Clinton use language that comes across as authentic and honest in ways similar to Trump. Fiorino, Bush, and Rubio are significantly lower than the others in authenticity.
- Sanders’ language suggests greater clout and more power-awareness than Clinton’s language.
- The male candidates across parties tend to use male-centric language at high rates with Sanders and Rubio being the most male-centric. For the female candidates, Clinton is balanced in her gender references while Fiorino uses slightly female-centric language.
This is the first of several brief blog posts about the 2016 election. Our plan is to use some sophisticated computer-based text analysis methods to get a better sense of the social and psychological dimensions of the candidates. No platforms or positions discussed here. Just people’s basic thinking, emotional, and interpersonal styles.
The basic system we rely on will be a computer program developed in our lab, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, or LIWC (pronounced “Luke”, and available for research purposes at www.liwc.net, or for commercial purposes through www.Receptiviti.com). LIWC analyzes any kind of text and calculates the percentage of words that are emotional, cognitive, and another 80 or so dimensions. There are now hundreds of studies in political science, business, psychology, and other disciplines that have used it. For a brief summary of articles, check this link or this one. The more recent version of the program, LIWC2015, has just been released and has a number of dimensions particularly well-suited to political campaigns.
OK, let’s get serious. There are only two viable candidates for president in the Democratic race right now — Clinton and Sanders. O’Malley made a credible showing but until his ratings reach double digits, we’ll stick with the front runners. Biden may join the team eventually but let’s put him aside since he was a no-show for the October 13th debate.
Although LIWC can analyze a mind-boggling number of dimensions, we will focus on only a handful: emotional tone, thinking style, authenticity, power and clout, and sexism (relative referencing of males to females).
Historically, the American electorate has preferred more upbeat and optimistic candidates to more negative or hostile candidates. The simplest way to measure emotional tone is simply to calculate the total number of words that have a positive connotation (such as happy, success, good) or a negative one (anger, death, hurt). Across the board, Clinton was far more optimistic and upbeat than Sanders.
It’s also interesting to compare the emotional states of Clinton and Sanders to the most likely candidates on the Republican side — Bush, Rubio, Fiorina, and Trump (sorry to those of you who are rooting for Cruz or Ben Carson or one of the others — it’s not gonna happen). As you can see in the graph, Clinton’s emotional state is similar to Jeb Bush, Rubio, and Trump. Sanders and Fiorina are both impressively low.
Note that the Emotional tone index is a weighted score that ranges between 0 (very negative) and 100 (very positive).
The words people use in everyday language can reveal their natural thinking style. There are at least two ways to capture thinking styles that are related to the debates. The first measures people’s natural ways of trying to understand, analyze, and organize complex events. We have devised a metric called the categorical-dynamic index, or the CDI. A high score on the CDI is associated with analytical, formal, and logical thinking. A low score is often associated with more narrative thinking where the speaker is in the here-and-now. The CDI has been found to be related to college grades, measures of intelligence, and various markers of academic success.
The second measure, which we call Cognitive Processing, reflects the extent that people are trying to work out a problem in their minds. For example, if you were asked to describe the most efficient way to get from your home to the City Hall in a particular town about 100 miles away, you would likely use words such as think, believe, realize, know, and other cognitive processing words. However, if you knew precisely how to get there because you had driven that route dozens of times, you would not use cognitive processing words. In other words, if you are still trying to figure out a problem, you use cognitive processing terms; if you are certain that you know “the answer”, you don’t use these words.
In terms of raw intelligence and the ability to think analytically, Sanders scores slightly higher than Clinton. In fact, most of the likely Republican nominees are in the same range. The one who scores far, far below the rest is Donald Trump. Trump shoots from the hip and is guided by his intuition. He is not a logical or analytical thinker.
Of all the candidates, Hillary Clinton scores highest on cognitive processing — meaning she is someone who continues to work through issues as they come up. Bernie Sanders, however, is the lowest of all the candidates. This suggests that he has already thought through his positions and is most entrenched in his beliefs in that he is no longer thinking about them as much as the others.
Over the years, multiple labs have developed algorithms that tap the degree to which people are personal, honest, and authentic. The authenticity measure is made up of words such as I-words (I, me, my), present tense verbs, and other dimensions previously associated with telling the truth. While the Democrats are quite similar to each other in terms of authenticity, they are strikingly higher than the Republican candidates with the exception Trump.
Clout and Power-Awareness
There are at least two ways to think about power, status, and clout. The first, which we call clout, is the kind of power that is seen in a strong leader. A person with clout speaks with confidence and a sense of certainty. People who have clout tend to use we- and social words more and I-words, negations, and swear words less. Overall, Sanders uses language that suggests more clout than Clinton. Although Fiorina was far higher than Sanders in the last Republican debate and Trump was somewhat lower than Clinton.
The second measure of status is power awareness. That is, to what degree are people aware of people with more or less power than they have? When you walk into a room, to what degree do you notice the relative status of others? The power-awareness measure captures the degree to which people use words such as command, boss, and defeat. As depicted in the table, Sanders is much more power-aware than Clinton and is at the same level as the most power-aware Republican Marco Rubio. It’s interesting that Trump is by far the least power-aware of all the candidates. In his mind, he already has the most power and there is no reason for him to have to size up other people along this dimension
Male-Centric Language (A marker of sexism, perhaps?)
The ways people use words tell us where they are paying attention. If a speaker uses a high rate of words such as women, females, she and her, and relatively few references to males, the speaker is simply thinking and talking about women more. Is this sexist language? Maybe, maybe not. Does this speaker always make more references to women than men? If so, the person certainly isn’t paying much attention to people of the male persuasion.
By analysing references to females and males, we can get a sense of candidates’ natural orientations to women and men. We aren’t warranting that this is a measure of overt sexism but it may be a subtle or implicit signal of gender bias.
Check out the graph. The numbers refer to the percentage of all gender references that are male. Numbers above 50% suggest a male bias; numbers below 50% hint at a female bias. Overall, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina use gendered language very differently than the male candidates. Clinton referred to males and females at similar levels; Fiorina made more references to women than men — partly based on the questions she was asked in the last debate. The men, however, were far more gendered in their language than the women. It wasn’t even close. The two who were most male-centric were Sanders and Rubio.
In the Future
This is the first of several posts about the 2016 election. The current analyses are relatively cursory but give an interesting perspective on the most likely nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties. For more information about the current project contact Kayla Jordan or James Pennebaker. More information is available about the basic research behind LIWC and commercial uses.
October 22, 2012
by James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung
Pundits are reporting that the third debate on foreign policy was a toss-up, perhaps with a very slight edge in Obama’s favor. The stubbornly objective computerized text analysis program, LIWC, refused to name a winner. But in counting different types of words by Obama and Romney, LIWC revealed some word patterns that tell us a little more about the two candidates.
The candidates as communicators: businessman versus professor. Romney and Obama break down ideas and express them in very different ways. They simply think differently.
Across the debates, Romney uses shorter words and shorter sentences. He tends to be more concrete, breaking problems into more precise categories. Compared to Obama, he uses a high rate of articles (a, an, the) which reflects his reference to concrete nouns. These nouns are well organized; by his high use of prepositions and specific references to spatial words (above, around, below, outside), Romney provides a roadmap of his thoughts.
Obama tends to be a more theoretical communicator. His sentences are much longer, his words bigger, and he is much less personal. Unlike Romney, Obama often sets up a context for his thoughts. Look at the way he often starts a response to a question: “Well, my first job as commander in chief, Bob, is to keep the American people safe. “; “You’ve got to be clear, both to our allies and our enemies, about where you stand and what you mean.“; “When I came into office, we were still bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan had been drifting for a decade.”
Compare those first sentences to some of Romney’s: “Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys…“; “I don’t want to have our military involved in Syria. I don’t think there is a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage.” “Well I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.”
Obama thinks about a problem within a broader context; Romney tends to answer questions directly and then brings up contextual matters after the fact. These two types of thinking are likely to lead to very different strategies in decision making. A contextual thinker will likely spend more time looking at a problem from multiple perspectives. A more categorical thinker will likely have a more set world view and simply make decisions from pre-existing values or beliefs.
Ultimately, the two candidates are revealing their backgrounds. Romney is a businessman with a clear sense of economic realities, and a bottom line. Obama is, at heart, an academic — a world where there are multiple ways to get at truth, and so competing views must be acknowledged.
Candidates as people: social relationships versus achievement. Despite the nastiness of the 2012 presidential election, both candidates have come across as honest, decent people. They both appear to have warm and stable families. One thing that a text analysis method can help uncover are some of the basic values that are central to candidates. Across the debates, the two men have made references to money, religion, death, and family at similar rates. Two language dimensions that have emerged are references to other people and references to achievement and work.
One dimension of the LIWC program counts references to anything social — people, conversations, friendship, or anything that suggests an interest in or awareness of other people. Within each of the three debates, Obama has consistently used social words about 10% more frequently than Romney. In his mind, the current economic difficulties are a problem because they hurt people.
Romney, on the other hand, has consistently used words that suggest achievement (e.g., earn, success, win). Not surprisingly, Romney has also made greater references to the related dimension of work. Work words include a variety of more economically-relevant words such as job, paycheck, and company. Whereas Obama views economic difficulties as people-problems, Romney frames the recession as something that undermines achievement, jobs, and progress.
Obviously, a recession is bad for companies and for people. But the framing of the problem reveals differences in core values about people and human nature. Ultimately, it likely drives what each believes to be the most effective solution.
The debate language of Obama and Romney. It should be noted that debates are a very peculiar interaction in which to study language use and personality. Although many labs and companies have examined the men’s language use, body language, and voice characteristics, we are most impressed by how similar the two really are. They are both smart, eloquent, formal, and trustworthy.
The analysis of pronouns and other function words is helpful in revealing how people are speaking or thinking. LIWC can also give insight into personalities and even central values. The degree to which Americans agree with what the candidates are saying remains to be determined in the upcoming elections.