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.

Emotional Tone

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.

vp-tone

Belief Certainty

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.”

vp-certainty

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.

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

Donald Trump is now the official presidential nominee of the Republican party. At the RNC convention, two of his former rivals, Ted Cruz and Chris Christie, returned for another moment in the spotlight. Interestingly, both also gave presentations at the 2012 RNC convention in support of Mitt Romney. Here we look at how Cruz and Christie have evolved from the 2012 convention through the 2016 primary debates to the 2016 RNC convention. We examine their language in their speeches and debates to determine how their emotional tone has shifted, how authentic they seem now, and how their thinking has changed providing a glimpse into how the Republican party has changed over these last four years.

Emotional Tone

Back in 2012, Christie was in his first term as governor of NJ. In his RNC speech, he talked about his own life, what he was doing as governor, and why he thought Mitt Romney should be president. His speech was relatively upbeat and optimistic using words like love, respect, and happy. During the 2016 primary debates, Christie lost some of that optimism, speaking more negatively. In his speech at the recent RNC, Christie devoted most of his time attacking Hillary Clinton barely mentioning Trump at all. His speech is full of negative emotion words eliciting anger and sadness like danger, death, and guilty. Christie’s latest speech is indicative of someone who is feeling defeated. Now he is stuck between the man who defeated him in the primary and a woman who he clearly dislikes, and it is understandable that Christie may be feeling somewhat depressed.

In 2012, Cruz was running for his Senate seat in Texas.  He gave a positive, optimistic speech at the RNC convention discussing his own background and beliefs while endorsing Romney as the nominee. Like Christie, his tone during the 2016 primary debates was more negative and pessimistic perhaps reflecting a change in Republican sentiment. Cruz’s tone at the RNC convention this week was remarkably different from Christie’s. He had a very positive, upbeat tone focused on his own political beliefs rather than attacking Clinton or praising Trump. His positive tone was somewhat ironic given that Cruz’s speech was met with loud boos and cat-calls from the audience due to his refusing to endorse Trump for president. Perhaps, Cruz is moving on from his failure in this cycle and looking forward to his chances in 2020.

Cruz-Christie Tone

Authenticity

In addition to changes in tone, sizable differences in Christie’s and Cruz’s authenticity emerged. Authenticity is a measure of how personal and honest a person’s language is. People who are more authentic tend to use more I-words (I, me, mine) and relativity-related words like new, during, and near. Authentic people also tend to use fewer she-he (he, her, his) words and discrepancy words like should, could, and must.

Christie has steadily become less authentic, and Cruz, who wasn’t very authentic to begin with, was even less so at this week’s RNC convention. Given the highly contentious primary season, it is perhaps somewhat unsurprising that two former rivals are less than authentic faced with Trump’s nomination. In speaking at a Trump-centered convention, their support for the current direction of the party may be somewhat forced.

In his speech this week, Christie made token compliments to Trump but used his time to make a case against Clinton rather than for Trump. His language indicates that his support for Trump, and perhaps his opposition of Clinton, may be less than completely sincere.

For Cruz, much of the primary season was spent fighting with Donald Trump. While Cruz did not endorse him in his speech, he did congratulate him on his nomination and had to talk to a hostile Trump-supporting crowd. Given his struggles with Trump, Cruz may have found it difficult to be sincere in support of a party that chose Trump over him.

Cruz-Christie Authenticity

Belief Certainty: Cognitive processing

Cruz and Christie have also changed in their thinking styles since 2012. When someone is working through a problem and building their beliefs, they tend to use words like think, believe, and know. These types of words reflect cognitive processing. People low in cognitive processing are more certain in their beliefs.

Christie’s cognitive processing scores have dropped over time. He has become more certain in his positions and is thinking through them as was apparent at the convention this week.

Cruz has always been someone who is certain in his beliefs. Cruz’s cognitive processing has increased slightly over time, but overall is still low. Stepping onto the national stage may have presented Cruz with more complex issues, but he knows what he believes.

Cruz-Christie CogProc

Summary

Chris Christie and Ted Cruz have handled the 2016 primary season and their subsequent defeats differently. Christie’s speech is rife with negative emotion indicating a sense of pessimism which may reflect his election defeat and rejection by Trump for the vice presidential slot. His language use also suggests emotional distancing.  His convention speech is among the least authentic and most impersonal that he has given.  At the same time, the cognitive process measure reveals a lack of introspection that he has shown in the past.

Although Cruz may be unhappy with the choice of Trump as the nominee, his language reveals that he is more optimistic about the future. Indeed, Cruz’s RNC speech was among the most upbeat he has ever given.  Among all of the candidates — both Republican and Democratic — in the 2015-2016 debates, Cruz stood out as the least authentic and the lowest in cognitive processing (or, conversely, the highest in belief certainty).  Along these dimensions, he remained the outlier. He continues to use language associated with deception mixed with a strong sense of certainty.

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

by Molly Ireland

Joe Biden is notorious for embarrassing interview blunders. He can be a little too uncensored and tends to go off-message when he’s not reading from a script. Our analysis shows, however, that Biden’s speech writers might want to take a few cues from his interview persona. In interviews the Democratic vice presidential candidate is more human and less severe than he is in speeches. When talking as himself, Biden talks like a normal person, using pronouns and verbs at rates that closely match the speaking styles of the average people we’ve recorded over the years. Consequently, in interviews Biden is more approachable, more socially connected, and also more cautious and insightful – in other words, he sounds like a human leader rather than a stuffed suit. The good news about Biden’s interview language is, unfortunately, bad news for his speeches. In speeches Biden comes across as stern and slightly awkward. Whether a candidate appears warm and human or cold and preprogrammed could decide the election. It has in the past.

Here’s a quick summary of the significant differences between Biden in interviews and speeches:


Interviews: personable, normal
first person singular (I, me, my)
second person singular (you, your)
third person singluar (she, him)
past tense (saw, thought)
present tense (looking, think)
verbs (ran, voting)
prepositions (within, over)
conjunctions (and, but)
negations (not, never)
visual (see, look)
hearing (heard, silent)
insight (realize, solve)
tentative (probably, depends)
exclusive (except, without)

Speeches: cold, formal
words with 6+ letters
we (our, us, we’ll)
future tense (should, will)
positive emotion (happy, joy)
anxiety, sadness (worry, grieve)
inhibition (obstacle, ban, stop)
inclusive (both, and)
time (ago, begin, November)
death (bereave, genocide)
body (heart, sweat)
health (doctor, disease)
home (backyard, address)
leisure (party, play)
religion (god, pray)

Sensory words: “looking forward,” “her silence…was deafening.” Biden uses more sensory words in interviews. In conversations with journalists, he’s more likely to say things like “I see” and “I hear” (no difference in feeling words). In this example from his September 7th interview with Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press, Biden talks about listening to news about Palin:

I mean, I hear this talk about, you know, is she going to pick up Hillary voters? Well, I–so far I haven’t heard one single policy position, one single position that she has in common with Hillary.

And from the same interview, in response to Brokaw’s question about whether Democrats should be afraid of Palin:

I mean, I think it’s–well, I don’t–look, that’s for voters to decide. … And as I look down the road, that’s how I’ve always debated whoever I’ve debated, including the really tough women I work with, smart women, in the Senate. So I, I, I really don’t view this any differently. I may be surprised here down the road. But, but, you know, I’m just looking forward to debating her. I mean, why–look, she had a great speech. But what was–her silence on the issues was deafening.

Here Biden is using “look,” “see,” and “hear” in ways that would be common in a normal conversation. He also talks about deafening silence and looking down the road, using sensory metaphors so that his points sink in immediately and make a more visceral impact. Using sensory words figuratively and literally reminds us that Biden is a person – a seeing, hearing person – rather than a disembodied head floating above a lectern.

God and emotion: praying for the troops, but without the melodrama. Biden’s interview language is also more natural in that he talks less about God and death less and uses fewer emotional words than in speeches. In the last several years Republican politicians have made a point of talking about “godless liberals” to motivate fundamentalist Christian voters. Consequently, Democrats have had to talk about God a lot just in order to convince voters that they aren’t in fact heralds of the Beast. The fact that Biden talks about religion a lot more in scripted speeches than in off-script interviews may be caused by this trend. His notoriously uncensored interview language is probably closer to his normal way of speaking. Importantly, in interviews Biden talks about religion almost exactly as much as an average person in conversation: rarely (.3% for Biden, .2% for average people). Religion is private and, in face-to-face talks, Biden usually keeps it that way.

In speeches, Biden used 3.5% negative emotion words, compared with 2.5%, the average for people in conversations. Speeches are meant to be stirring, and it makes sense that speeches given by candidates who oppose the current administration would contain more negative emotions than would be normal in any other setting. So while it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Biden uses more negative emotions in speeches, it is a good sign for the Democratic party he’s less melodramatic and more easygoing in conversation with interviewers. Comfortable, emotionally controlled interviewees make better diplomats than hot-headed gunslingers.

Pronouns, verb tense, and cognitive complexity: “I know,” “because I think.” You can also see in the examples above that he’s using less “we,” and more “I” and third person singular (she, he). He still uses “I” at a pretty low rate in interviews, on average — 4.8% in his most recent interview, with Brokaw, and 2.8% on average over the last three years. But Biden is no Woody Allen – his “I” use is certainly not off the charts. While high “I” – above about 8% — is correlated with neuroticism and maladaptively high self-focus, Biden’s “I” use in the Brokaw interview and on average is significantly less than most people. Low “I” use in conversation usually signifies that the speaker is of higher status. Rather than talking about himself, he is thinking about others, what they should do, how their actions will affect the US, etc. His relatively low “I” use here probably reflects the fact that he is, as a vice presidential nominee with a long, venerable resume, objectively a high status politician.

Also, when Biden uses “I” it’s very rarely in self-critical or self-obsessive ways. In interviews Joe Biden says “I think,” “I know”, and “I mean” frequently. In fact, in speeches and interviews, Biden uses tentative (probably, depends) and insight words (think, know) as well as prepositions (about, within) and conjunctions (but, or) more often in interviews than in speeches. All of these word categories signify greater cognitive complexity. Tentative words particularly are signs of carefulness and restraint – good qualities for a wartime leader to have.

His higher use of “she/he” (1.6% vs .7% in speeches) and “you” (1.6% vs .5%) also shows that he is somewhat socially oriented, and that he is thinking and talking about others almost as much as he is about himself. Again, his “she/he” use is still only about average – he pays attention to the people around him, but he’s not a gossip.

Verbs, past and present. Biden uses present tense and past tense more in interviews than in speeches, although he still uses both tenses less than we normally see in average conversations. His speech writers—and the Republican nominees’ writers, by the way—seem to be trying to spread their message of hope and progress by talking about the future more often than is normal, and the past abnormally infrequently. Usually people use past tense about four times as often as present tense (4% vs. 1%); in Biden’s speeches, he references the future about as often as the past (1.6% past vs. 1.4% future).

Talking more about the future and less about the past in speeches may backfire, making Democrats seem more like starry-eyed future gazers rather than battle-ready realists. In the last few months and during the elections of 2000 and 2004, analysts on both sides of the political divide complained that Democrats failed to seize a multitude of opportunities to capitalize on Republicans’ vulnerabilities – including blatant hypocrisy (male anti-gay rights activists seducing young men online) and campaign misconduct (calling voters at inopportune times with obnoxious messages supposedly from Democratic candidates). The sub-normal levels of past tense verbs in both Biden’s and Obama’s speeches indicate that the party so far appears to be set on the same naïve path.
When Biden is uncensored, on the other hand, he basically gets it right. His increased use of verbs — particularly his much more normal use of past and future tense verbs — makes Biden seem more like a man of action and an everyman in interviews than in speeches.

Summary. To sum up, in interviews Biden comes across as a high status, cognitively complex, but eminently approachable everyman. In terms of pronouns, Biden’s language is high status (lower than average “I”) but personable (higher “I” and lower “we” than in speeches, higher “she/he” and “you” use). He also seems to be an insightful, careful leader, as you can see by his increased use of insight words and other measures of cognitive complexity. Biden also has a tendency to pay much more attention to the present and past in interviews than in speeches. In this respect his language is much closer to a normal person in conversation than most future-gazing politicians. He is also much more natural when talking about religion and emotions in interviews compared with speeches. In speeches he uses far more negative emotion words and religious words than the average person, while in interviews his language in these categories is indistinguishable from the common man he wants to represent.

The ways people use pronouns tells us how they are viewing themselves and their social worlds.  The analysis of five Republican and Democratic debates (June 2007, November 2007, December 2007, and two January 2008) were analyzed by each major candidate’s use of pronouns.  Not surprisingly, each candidate reveals a different side to the audience.

Use of I versus We.  Previous studies show that the use of 1st person singular (I, me, mine) is associate with:

  • honesty
  • being personal, more self-reflective
  • low in dominance, less threatening
  • less happy

In previous elections, Bush used “I” words at much higher rates than either Gore or Kerry; Bill Clinton used them more than Bush 41 or Dole.  Check out the graph.

  • iwords.jpg

Use of 1st person plural (we, us, our…) is even more diagnostic within a political context.  Within a political debate or speech context, people who use high rates of we-words are:

  • psychologically distant, less able to emotionally connect with the audience
  • often use “we” to mean “you”
  • more arrogant

Check out the second graph. 

 1st person plural (we, us, our)

You see that Obama, McCain, and Romney are the highest along these dimensions.

The I versus We ratio.  One more way to look at I and we is to compute a ratio where I-use is divided by the sum of I plus We.  Based on previous elections, the higher the ratio (that is, the relatively more use of I), the more likely the person was to get elected.  Overall, Clinton and Edwards are the highest by far with Obama the lowest.

1st person pronoun conclusions.  Don’t bet the farm just yet but the pronoun count strongly favors Hillary Clinton.  Someone should have a little chat with Obama about his vague overuse of “we”.  Who is the “we” he keeps referring to? Is he using this as code for “you”?

JWP