September 27, 2016
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung
The October 16, 2012 debate was interesting for several reasons. First, there was a shift in the social dynamics between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. As you can see in an earlier post, the first debate revealed Romney to be more authentic and slightly less optimistic and warm than Obama. Both were equally evasive in answering questions.
Most striking has been the immediate reaction from pundits — who generally claim that Obama was far stronger, more assertive, and more engaged than he was in the first debate. Others note that Romney was more defensive. Our text analysis procedure showed that both candidates were surprisingly similar in their use of words across the two debates. We are pleased to officially announce that peoples’ personalities tend to remain constant over time and context.
But first, the award winners.
The authenticity award: Mitt Romney.
Authenticity reflects markers of self-reflection (I-words), cognitive complexity, and relative low rates of negative emotion. Compared to the first debate, both Romney and Obama are both becoming more authentic. However, Romney maintains a small lead (4.6 vs 4.2; compared to the first debate where Romney beat Obama by 4.4 vs 3.5).
The warmth and optimism award: Barack Obama
In the first debate, both men were quite similar, with Obama leading slightly. In the second debate, Romney made strides in sounding more optimistic. Ultimately, however, both were consistently emotionally distant. Contrary to common wisdom, the rate of anger words was virtually identical to the first debate. Most pundits claim that this was a more hostile debate but in anger word usage, it wasn’t.
The evasiveness award: Barack Obama
Using Language Style Matching, or LSM, we can calculate the degree to which each presidential candidate uses language congruent with the moderator Candy Crowley or the TV-studio audience question-askers. We assume that the more similar the language style, the more the candidate is answering the questions and reflecting the thinking of the questioner. In the first debate, both men were equally evasive with Lehrer.
In the second debate, both men answered all the questions more directly. However, Romney was reliably more on target with the questions than was Obama (LSM coefficients for Romney were .94 vs .92 for Obama with Crowley; .90 for Romney vs .86 for Obama with audience questions).
Interestingly, the two candidates matched in their language styles slightly more in the second debate (LSM coefficient of .95) relative to the first debate (.92), indicating greater engagement with one another. So, although the candidates were not firing more angry words, the more subtle language style metric indicates that the candidates are increasingly vigilant about what the other is saying; things are indeed heating up.
The Big Picture
Standing back, what does all of this mean about the basic personality or character of both men? It’s important to emphasize that both men use language the same ways they did four years ago. The debates are simply revealing that they are the same people we have always known.
Obama. Barack Obama is psychologically cool. He does not use personal or emotional language at high rates. Although he is a narrative thinker, he is not close to people. If you listen to the way he answers questions, he tends to provide a brief history and context. He is highly confident in his abilities. Above all, he is consistent. He has probably changed less in the last four years than any other president since Franklin Roosevelt changed during their first term.
Romney. Mitt Romney is surprisingly similar to Obama. He is psychologically distant although he uses I-words at rates slightly higher than Obama. He is not particularly emotional nor is he socially connected to others. The one difference from Obama is that Romney’s thinking is very male-like. He uses a very high rate of articles and nouns — a sign that he tends to categorize and label problems in a traditional way. The way he approaches problem is not unlike that of George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon.
Tune into Sosolimited’s web app, reconstitution2012.com, during the third debate (10/22/12) for a live language analysis. Following the third debate, we will explore the psychological dimensions of both candidates in greater detail.
Also, check out a brief video discussion: http://youtu.be/yWE9V-P_q-Q