Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

After just over a month in office, Donald Trump gave his first address to Congress. The content of Trump’s address was similar to past presidents’ State of the Union (SOTU) addresses with a focus on recent accomplishments and plans for the upcoming year. But what about the style of the speech?

Unlike his inaugural address which was linguistically similar to Trump’s typical language, his recent address was more analytic and less authentic than normal. Similar to his RNC acceptance speech, Trump’s first SOTU was heavily shaped by a speechwriter. Although the content of the address overlapped considerably with Steve Bannon’s recurring themes of fear of outsiders, the linguistic markers were quite similar to the language of Stephen Miller in a recent interview on Face the Nation.  Despite Miller’s probable role in the address, Trump’s latest speech is useful in understanding overall trends in the presidency and where Trump fits in.

Decline in Analytic Thinking

Similar to trends in inaugural addresses, SOTU speeches are generally highly analytic and formal, but have been becoming less so over time. Starting with Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, modern presidents have adopted a more informal, narrative style in their annual addresses to Congress. Trump’s first address continued this trend with his level of analytic thinking on par with the last 5 presidents.

The decline in analytic thinking signals a shift in how presidents are thinking about problems and presenting their ideas. Trump, like other recent presidents, laid out his ideas in a simpler, more straightforward way than past presidents. Going forward, Trump will likely rely more and more on offering simple, intuitive solutions and ideas to the problems he faces.

sotu-analytic

Rise in Confidence

The language presidents use can show how confident and self-certain they are as leaders. Confidence or clout is indicated by more we-words and social words and fewer I-words, negations (e.g. no, not), and swear words.

Whereas analytic thinking has decreased over the last century, clout has increased. Around the same time presidents began becoming less analytic, they also started to exude more confidence. Presidents have increasingly approached these addresses to Congress with confidence and certainty. Trump is the most confident so far, but is still similar to recent presidents. Trump and other modern presidents are decisive and confident in their plans and proposals.

sotu-clout

The Big Picture

In their SOTU addresses, presidents have been becoming more confident and less analytic. These trends show that presidents are changing how they are thinking and interacting with lawmakers and the American people. Administration after administration, the yearly SOTU addresses are laying out simpler and less nuanced world views with bolder more decisive proposals. Faced with complex, hard-to-solve problems, clear and easy solutions are likely more appealing to present to an increasingly polarized Congress (and electorate).

While Trump is often seen as a significant departure from presidential norms, in many ways, he isn’t all that different than other modern presidents. Rather than being an extreme outlier, Trump is part of long-term trends. He is a more confident, intuitive thinker, but Obama and Bush were as well. The content of what Trump is saying may be abnormal, but the style is typical of recent presidents.

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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.

Emotional Tone

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.

second-debate-tone

Clout

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.

second-debate-clout

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.

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.

i-words-general

Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

This week Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met on the debate stage for the first time. In looking at their language so far, we have found the candidates to be remarkably consistent with their earlier primary debates in their language styles. Throughout their campaigns both candidates have faced numerous challenges to their temperaments and their honesty. Given the perceptions of their weaknesses, the candidates may have tried to change how they approached the debate their first presidential debate. We examine two ways the candidates may have changed: (1) are they more analytic or more narrative and (2) are they more authentic or more distant?

Analytic Thinking

As we have discussed in previous posts, people differ in the ways they think. Some people think in a formal, logical manner indicated by the greater use of nouns, articles, and prepositions. Others rely more on stories and narrative communicating in an informal manner using more pronouns, auxiliary verbs (e.g. is, have, was), and common adverbs (e.g. really, so, very).

During the primary debates, Clinton spoke using a formal, analytic style. She focused on her policy proposals and issues and laid them out in a logical fashion. Trump had a shoot-from-the-hip, informal way of speaking using stories and anecdotes to explain his thinking. Have their thinking styles changed? In Trump’s case, no. As you can see in the graph below, his numbers are virtually identical. Trump remains very much a narrative, intuitive thinker. Clinton, on the other hand, was more narrative than normal at this debate getting closer to Trump’s thinking style. Given her opponent and some of the criticisms she has faced, Clinton may have tried to be more personable and less formal to better appeal to voters.

analytic-trump-clinton

Authenticity

The words people use also reflect how authentic or personal they sound. People who are authentic tend to use more I-words (e.g. I, me, mine), present-tense verbs, and relativity words (e.g. near, new) and fewer she-he words (e.g. his, her) and discrepancies (e.g. should, could).

In the primary debates, both Trump and Clinton came across as relatively authentic and personal though Clinton was a bit more distant. Have the candidates changed? Once again, Trump has changed very little since the primaries. He is still speaking his mind in straight-forward, authentic way. Clinton, however, has changed rather dramatically. After a few recent scandals, it is perhaps somewhat unsurprising that Clinton has become more distant and inauthentic.

authentic-trump-clinton

The Big Picture

As Clinton said in the debate, “words matter.”  Indeed, the words people use reveal important facets about them. So what does the debate language of Clinton and Trump say about them?

Clinton. Clinton’s language has changed the most from the primary debates. She went from being analytic to more narrative and from relatively authentic to rather distant. By all accounts, she spent quite a bit of time preparing for the debate to change the way she speaks to address criticisms she has faced. Her drop in authenticity could be a result of consciously altering how she normally speaks. Her drop in authenticity may also give people a sense of her being more authoritative. Given the way she has been criticized for not being open (despite often being more accurate than Trump according to fact checkers like CNN and PoliFact), shifting back to her more honest style might be in order.

Trump. When not reading from a script, Donald Trump is remarkably consistent. Trump says what he thinks and believes in what he says. Unlike Clinton, Trump did not seem to spend much time preparing for the debate. For better or worse, Trump is who he is and may not change to court new voters or change people’s perceptions.

Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are officially rivals for the 2016 presidential election. Their acceptance speeches at their respective party conventions demonstrated the stark contrast between the two candidates. In this post, we look at three major points of divergence: the emotional tone of their speeches, the certainty they have in their beliefs, and the focus they place on power, affiliation, and achievement.

trump&clinton

Emotional Tone

The most obvious difference between the two speeches was their tones. During the primary debates, Trump tended to be relatively positive and upbeat, but during his acceptance speech, Trump was uncharacteristically negative and pessimistic. Trump painted a dark portrait of the world. To him, the current outlook is bleak, and we have to “make America great again.” After several years of Democratic leadership, he argued that much must be changed in order to fix the country and set it on the right path.

Clinton, on the other hand, gave an upbeat, optimistic speech. Her language during the debate season was generally positive and optimistic, and her acceptance speech was even more so. For all the problems left to be solved, the nation is in a fundamentally good place. No matter what might be going wrong, people are capable of working hard and accomplishing great things. For Clinton, the American people should continue striving along the current path for progress.

Using our text analysis program LIWC, we simply calculated the percentage of emotionally-tinged words within the two acceptance speeches.   An emotional tone variable was created where a score of 100 would reflect a perfectly positive upbeat use of language and a score of 0 would be completely negative.  A score of 50 reflects an equal balance of positive and negative emotionally-related words.  Across all previous debates this season, both Trump and Clinton have received tone scores around 60.

conventionTone

As depicted in the graph, Clinton’s language increased in positive tone from her debates whereas Trump’s became decidedly more negative.  If you look back over our previous posts this election season, Trump’s score of 30 is lower than the majority of other politicians for any single debate; only 13% of politicians in debates had lower scores.

Belief Certainty

In addition to their emotional tones, another area in which Trump and Clinton differ significantly is belief certainty. When people are working through issues, they tend to use words like think, believe, and know which reflects cognitive processing. People who are no longer working through issues or who are more certain in their beliefs use these words less. In the graph below, we compared the candidates’ use of cognitive processing words to all the politicians in the primary debates and conventions. The numbers in the graph reflect the percentage of politicians who used more cognitive processing words than a given speech. Hence, higher scores indicate more certainty and lower scores more processing. For example, a score of 95 would indicate the 95% of all other speakers used more cognitive processing words.

Trump is more certain in his beliefs now than in the primary debates. Trump may have still been working out some of his beliefs in the primaries, but his acceptance speech indicates he has become more entrenched in his positions. Now, he doesn’t need to process his positions; he already knows what he thinks. Above everything, Trump uses language like he has the answers to the problems he is faced with.

Clinton’s language, on the other hand, is indicative of someone who may still be working through issues. While she was processing problems more during the primary debates, compared to Trump, she was still trying to understand issues. As was seen in the primary season, she engaged with the issues and her opponent, Bernie Sanders, shifting her positions to better match voters’ attitudes. Clinton knows her beliefs, but is more willing to think about alternate viewpoints and change her opinions.

conventionCertain

Power, Affiliation, and Achievement

Finally, Trump and Clinton have different motivations that drive them. As we have discussed in previous posts, people naturally differ in the extent to which they are guided by their focus on power, achievement, and affiliation. Those concerned with power judge themselves and others by their relative status and influence. Those driven by needs for affiliation are more concerned with having and making friends and allies. Those focused on achievement use words that reflect topics such as ambition, trying, and success or failure.

Relative to Clinton, Trump is concerned with power and status. This can be seen in statements like: “It’s time to deliver a victory for the American people.” and “It is time to show the whole world that America Is Back – bigger, and better and stronger than ever before.” In the primary, Trump had relatively little concern for power. Now that he has secured the nomination, power is more central to his thoughts.  

Clinton makes more references to affiliation and achievement. It was clear she was distinguishing herself from Trump responding, “We’ll fix it together,” showing the value she places on cooperation rather than power. Clinton was more oriented toward social relationships in general. She spent time connecting to other Democrats, thanking Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden for their work. Based her language, Clinton isn’t thinking about the power others have, but rather on what they get done and how well they work with others.

conventionDrives

Summary

Compared to their language in the primaries, both candidates shifted their language in accepting their party’s nomination. Since becoming the official nominee, Trump changed rather dramatically from being relatively optimistic to being quite pessimistic. Was this new negative tone a calculated strategy to turn voters against the Democratic party? Or did it reflect some kind of psychological turning point that signaled his own his own anxieties or insecurities?  His convention speech was also striking in that he used language with much greater certainty than ever before. During the primary debates, Trump was remarkably low in concern for power, but his acceptance speech revealed a strikingly high focus on power and status.

Clinton’s language changed less from the debates to the convention. Her convention speech was even more optimistic than in the debates. Like Trump, she was slightly more certain in her beliefs during the convention after working out the party platform. Even more so than the debates, Clinton is concerned with affiliation and achievement. Going into the general election, Clinton’s language is focused on accomplishing her plans and working with those who have supported her.

From a personality perspective, the convention acceptance speeches said a great deal about both candidates.  Clinton’s language use was consistent with what we have seen from her in the last year and, indeed, since she ran for president eight years ago. Across time and context, her language has reliably revealed optimism, awareness of different perspectives, and a focus on friends and achievement. In comparison, Trump’s speech was a fundamental departure from the past in the ways he has used words.  Normally optimistic, his convention speech was starkly pessimistic.  Normally, acknowledging different perspectives, his convention language conveyed belief, unwavering certainty.  Normally low in power orientation, his speech was quite high.

Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin

The candidates have certain phrases and topics that define their campaigns. From Trump’s slogan “Make America great again” to Sanders’ focus on Wall Street and the middle class, the words the candidates repeat shed light on the topics that grab their attention. Check out the words and topics uppermost in each candidate’s mind.

Hillary Clinton

The words that Clinton uses reflect her orientation toward achievement, work, government, and family. In the debates, she often speaks about her accomplishments and those of the Democrats which is shown in her use of the words affordable health care, voted, and support as shown below. Clinton frequently drives home her qualifications and why she would be the best president.

 

clinton

Bernie Sanders

Sanders knows what he believes and what he wants to accomplish and his words reflect that. He knows what the problem is (economy, middle class), who caused it (Wall Street), and how to fix it (education, health care). Sanders has a nearly single-minded focus on his worldview and vision.

sanders

Ted Cruz

Cruz’s words demonstrate his concern with power and status. Cruz is focused on the political hierarchy and his place in it. In the debates, Cruz frequently referenced both his Republican opponents, Trump and Rubio, as well as his Democratic opponents, Clinton and Obama. His word use also reflects his risk-orientation. In the policy arena, he has focused on immigration and terrorism and the threats they pose throughout the debates; more than any other candidate, Cruz is concerned with security and safety.

cruz

Donald Trump

Trump’s word use reflects his simpler, more straightforward speaking style. Trump tends to use shorter words and a more limited vocabulary. Compared to the other frontrunners who used between 2800-3400 unique words, Trump only used 2192 unique words in the debates. The words Trump most frequently used also speak to his reward orientation with words like win, great, and tremendous. Compared to the other candidates, Trump is looking to payoffs and benefits in his plans and policies.

trump

Similarities and Differences

The word clouds represent the most common content words used by the candidates in the debates so far. The larger the font of any given word, the more frequently the word is used by the candidate. Ten words are found in every candidate’s word cloud: country, ISIS, jobs, look, need, people, president, right, said, and work. These overlapping words suggest a few points of similarity:

  • Terrorism and the economy are important issues to every candidate. The candidates might disagree on the causes, courses of action, and ultimate solutions, they agree that they are important to discuss.

  • All the candidates are trying to direct voters’ attention to important points using phrases like look at the data, threat facing America right now, and we need to rebuild.

  • Every candidate is looking to the future and what they would do if elected. They are thinking past the campaign and to their hoped-for victory, which explains their frequent use of president and country.

There are also a number of frequent words that are unique to each candidate or party:

  • Health care is a major issue for the Democrats, but it is not an issue the Republicans talk about other than repealing Obamacare. Immigration is important for Republicans, but not Democrats.

  • When discussing immigration, the Republican candidates talk about the issue quite differently. Ted Cruz talks about immigration issues broadly using words like amnesty and law. Donald Trump’s discussion of immigration is typically more narrow focusing on the border with Mexico.

  • Interestingly, though terrorism is a common topic among the candidates, Ted Cruz is the only candidate to frequently discuss the military which fits with his more aggressive approach to foreign policy.

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?

cruz1

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?

trump1

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?

cruz2

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?

cruz3

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?

clinton1

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.

talkslikea-table

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.