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.
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.
February 15, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
One of the most frequently used words in the English language is “I”. The use of this small word has been linked to honesty, depression, status, and other psychological dimensions. In this post, we explore how the leading candidates are using I-words (including other first person singular pronouns such as me, my, and mine ) and what these words suggest about the candidates’ personalities and mental states.
People who frequently use I-words are more self-focused. They are thinking and talking about what they are doing and how they are feeling. The use of I-words can convey whether a person is personal versus distant and insecure versus confident. High “I” users tend to be personal but insecure whereas low “I” users tend to be confident yet psychologically distant.
The personal versus distant aspect of I-word use is best illustrated by studies of honesty and deception. Across several studies the best predictor of honest language is the use of I; people who are lying tend to avoid using I to distant themselves from their deception. The low use of I-words can also be indicative of self-confidence.Studies of status have found people of higher status tend to use fewer I-words and President Obama, who uses fewer I-words than any other modern president, is often rated as the most self-confident.
Not surprisingly, the presidential candidates differ in their use of I-words across the debates. Particularly revealing is how they compare with current and past presidents in unscripted sessions such as in press conferences. The similarities and differences between candidates and past presidents can illuminate what kind of president the candidates might be.
- Donald Trump uses I at much higher rates than any other candidate. Trump’s speaking style is quite personal and sometimes self-effacing. In some ways, his I-word usage is consistent with feelings of insecurity. As the only frontrunner without a political background, his lack of experience on political issues potentially reveals his weaknesses which he sometimes covers with bluster, distraction, and attacks on others. It is interesting that the two past presidents who used I-words at comparable rates were George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford — neither of whom were considered experts in hard-ball presidential politics.
- Ted Cruz uses Ifar less than Trump but slightly more than the other frontrunners. Interestingly, Cruz still uses I-words at lower rates than any modern U.S. president and at rates almost identical to Obama. Cruz’s more average use of I-words suggests he is self-confident and emotionally distant.
- Marco Rubio has the lowest rate of I-word use among any frontrunner or past president. More than any other candidates, Rubio likely comes across as impersonal and distant.
- Jeb Bush’s rate of I-word usage is similar to that of Ted Cruz and of President Obama. Bush’s style of speaking is more impersonal than most other candidates and previous presidents. Like Cruz, Bush likely has more self-confidence.
- Hillary Clinton is more self-focused than Bernie Sanders. Clinton is quite personal in her language style often speaking of her record, as a Senator and Secretary of State, and her plans if she were elected. Her relatively high use of I-words could indicate she may be somewhat insecure and anxious perhaps reflecting her ongoing struggles with scandals from her time at the State Department. Compared to previous presidents, her use of I-words is similar to LBJ and, interestingly, Bill Clinton.
- Bernie Sanders uses I-words at rates lower than Hillary Clinton but higher than most of the Republican field. He uses I-words at rates comparable to George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and JFK. Sanders uses both personal and distant language to explain his positions. While he comes across as relatable, he is still focused on the political issues and his policy proposals.
Trends and Takeaways
It is interesting to note the leaders in both parties, Trump and Clinton, use I-words the most. Their personal way of speaking undoubtedly helps them sound warmer and more sociable than the other candidates.
It is also interesting to note the differences between the parties. The Democrats are quite similar to each other. The Republicans, on the other hand, are striking with Donald Trump exceptionally high and Marco Rubio quite low compared to the others. From a language perspective, the Democratic race is a battle for basic ideas and values whereas the Republican contest is more a battle of personalities.
While it is advantageous for a leader to be likable and warm, self-confidence is also important in leadership. Likability may help a president’s approval ratings and be useful in interacting with allies and adversaries. Other qualities such as thinking style, clout — or the ability to command respect — and raw intelligence may be more helpful when making complicated political decisions.
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.
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
August 18, 2011
On Tuesday, August 16, Rick Perry was surprised to learn that other politicians did not approve of his statement claiming that it would be “treasonous” if the Federal Reserve Chair printed more money. Oddly, throwing around the word treason is not something that most presidential candidates have historically done. According to the Austin American Statesman:
Perry didn’t back down. “Look, I’m just passionate about the issue,” he said in Dubuque, Iowa. “And we stand by what we said.”
Did you catch that? “And we stand by what we said.” Hmmmm. We? Who exactly is we? This is a classic way that people psychologically distance themselves from what they are saying.
Watch the pronouns.
James W. Pennebaker
Author of the forthcoming book, The Secret Life of Pronouns (NY: Bloomsbury)
January 20, 2008
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:
being personal, more self-reflective
low in dominance, less threatening
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.
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”
Check out the second graph.
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”?