January 21, 2017
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
After an unconventional campaign, Trump gave an equally unique inaugural address. In keeping with his populist connection with the voters, Trump spoke in a direct, nuance-free style against the Washington elites and promising to “Make America Great Again.”
Unlike his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention which was clearly not written by him, Trump (or a speechwriter with a good grasp of Trump’s language style) was the primary author of his inaugural address. Linguistically, it was quite similar to the ways he spoke in his stump speeches, interviews, and debates. Consequently, the conclusions we have reached about his personality and thinking styles in the past are only reinforced after his ascension to the presidency.
Trump is Intuitive and not at all Analytical
In their inaugural addresses, presidents tend to show an analytic thinking style. They generally lay out their ideas in a formal, logical manner. Beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, modern presidents have adopted increasingly informal and narrative styles than their predecessors. Trump, however, has broken new ground in simple and intuitive thinking. As depicted in the graph below, no American president has been so low in analytic thinking.
Consistent with all of his debates, Trump is not capable of more logical and hierarchical thinking. He has rarely made an if-then statement. As evidenced through his tweeting, he is a fast decision maker driven by intuition and hunches. Because of this, scholars must pay particularly close attention to the values that are guiding him — nationalism, isolationism, wealth, security, hard work, and deal-making. When confronted with a difficult decision, he will likely be guided by advisors or the core values that are salient to him at the moment.
Trump is Authentic
Several studies have identified a set of word categories that are associated with people telling the truth. For example, I-words (e.g., I, me, my) often signal that the person is speaking from the heart. Interestingly, when we listen to a person who uses authenticity language, we are more likely to believe them. They come across as more personal and understanding.
From the first debate over 18 months ago, Trump has consistently used words associated with authenticity at very high rates. Indeed, this is his appeal. He shoots from the hip and many people feel he is talking directly to them. Presidents have differed widely in the authenticity of their inaugural addresses. Presidents such as Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, surprisingly, gave straightforward addresses clearly laying out their thoughts. Other presidents such as Eisenhower and Truman were more distant and impersonal in their speeches. As shown in the figure below, Trump rivals George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington in his use of authentic language.
Warning: Authentic language does not always mean honest or truthful. LBJ and Nixon may have spoken in authentic ways in their inaugural addresses but history has judged both men as wily and devious in their attempts to get legislation passed. Trump has a long history of making up often-outlandish facts and talking about them with complete sincerity. His language suggests that he actually believes them. In fact, evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has done a beautiful analysis of deception arguing that the most deceptive people (and other animals) are successful because they are self-deceptive.
Trump, then, may be objectively deceptive but his language reveals that he is generally an authentic individual. He says what he believes without trying to be evasive. He is quick to respond with his open and honest opinion be it during a press conference or on Twitter. For Trump, there is no hiding behind rhetoric.
The Big Picture
Trump’s inaugural address reflects his unorthodox campaign and likely signals the beginning of a different approach to the presidency. Trump continues to buck conventions and differentiate himself from the prototypical politician. His language in the campaign was a stunning departure from the political norms. It is unsurprising that his first speech as president veered so far from the norms.
The language in Trump’s inaugural address matches his language from the election debates suggesting how he approached the campaign is likely to be how he approaches the presidency. Trump likely won’t change his style to appease critics or garner support; he simply is who he is: a straightforward individual who speaks his mind and relies on his gut instincts. Given this remarkable consistency of Trump’s language, the president will likely continue to be an unique political figure.
Ho, S. M., Hancock, J. T., Booth, C., Liu, X., Timmarajus, S. S., & Burmester, M. (2015, May). Liar, Liar, IM on Fire: Deceptive language-action cues in spontaneous online communication. In Intelligence and Security Informatics (ISI), 2015 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 157-159). IEEE.
Newman, M. L., Pennebaker, J. W., Berry, D. S., & Richards, J. M. (2003). Lying words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 29(5), 665-675.
Pennebaker, J. W. “The secret life of pronouns: How our words reflect who we are.” New York: Bloomsbury (2011).
Pennebaker, J. W., Chung, C. K., Frazee, J., Lavergne, G. M., & Beaver, D. I. (2014). When small words foretell academic success: The case of college admissions essays. PloS one, 9(12), e115844.
Trivers, Robert. The folly of fools: The logic of deceit and self-deception in human life. Basic Books, 2011.
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.
April 14, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
The 2016 primary season has been a dream for many pundits and a nightmare for others. Despite the leads which made Trump and Clinton the obvious nominees, the race remains contested on both sides. Often below most people’s radar, John Kasich continues to remain in the race and, as we move closer to the conventions, promises to play an important role. While we have never examined Kasich in this blog, his resolve to stay in the race makes him worth a closer look.
Needs for Affiliation, Achievement, and Power
Kasich stands out from the other candidates in being highly oriented toward affiliation as shown in the graph below. In the debates, he frequently mentions friends and allies and reveals a strong commitment to social relationships. Whereas the other candidates are much higher in needs for power and status or achievement and success, Kasich cares about others on a deeply personal level. This is apparent in the high rates he makes references to friends, colleagues, and people he has met on the campaign trail.
Reward- versus Risk-Orientation
Similar to Donald Trump, Kasich is quite reward oriented. He is focused on the gains and benefits of his policies and on how things can go well and less concerned with risk and danger.
Clout – Language of Power and Leadership
More than any other frontrunner, Kasich speaks like a strong leader. Those high in clout speak confidently and tend to use more we-words and social words while using fewer I-words, negations, and swear words. Kasich’s language conveys certainty and interest in others; he is self-assured and secure in his own status.
The Topics that are Mentioned Most
By the words he uses, Kasich is looking domestically not internationally. While Kasich is similar to the other candidates in his focus on the economy, he differs from them in his lack of focus on terrorism. Furthermore, Kasich’s frequently used words demonstrate his orientation toward affiliation (together, community, friends) and reward (grow, strong, great). Like Clinton, Kasich tries to drive home his qualifications (governor, ohio) and why he is the best candidates to improve the country.
In the debates, Kasich pays attention to the policies and issues and less on the other candidates. When the other candidates attack, Kasich remains unperturbed refusing to talk about anything other than the issues. In an election dominated by big personalities, Kasich comes across as calm and relaxed, confident in his own abilities.
If Kasich manages to make it to the White House, his need for affiliation may drive him to surround himself with friends and allies. He would likely spend his time focused on domestic issues and throw his energy into economic problems. His orientations toward risk and reward indicate that in pursuing these policies and problems, he may overlook potential risks and downsides in favor of looking at the potential gains and benefits. His low power orientation suggest Kasich is not concerned with the status of others or his place in the political hierarchy; Kasich feels secure in his position without having to compare himself to others. As president, Kasich is likely to be a self-assured leader with clear direction and a concern for others.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
September 24, 2008
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:
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.