Posts Tagged 'Obama'



Presidential speech word patterns

In the continuing saga of presidential campaign speech language, I’ve been analyzing parts of speech that don’t get much attention such as verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. Looking at the way in which each candidate uses such words over time turns up some interesting patterns. I don’t understand their deep significance, but there’s some work suggesting that variability in writing is a sign of health; and Ashby’s Law of requisite variety can be interpreted to mean that the actor in a system with the most available options tends to control the system.

Here are the plots of adjective use (in a common framework) for the 2008 and 2012 candidates (up to the time that Santorum dropped out of the race).

It’s striking how much the patterns over time form a kind of spiral, moving from one particular combination of adjectives to another and another and eventually back to the original pattern. The exception is Obama who displays a much more radial structure, with an adjective combination that he uses a lot, and occasional deviations to something else, but a rapid return to his “home ground”.

You can see (the extremal set of) adjectives and their relationships in this figure:

You can see that they form 3 poles: on the left, adjectives associated with energy policy; at the bottom, adjectives associated with patriotism; and on the right, adjectives associated with defence [yes, it is spelled that way]. This figure can be overlaid on those of the candidates to get a sense of which poles they are visiting. For example, Obama’s “home ground” is largely associated with the energy-related adjectives.

Comparing content in the US presidential campaign 2008 vs 2012

I posted about the content in the 2012 presidential campaign speeches. It’s still relatively early in the campaign so comparisons aren’t necessarily going to reveal a lot, but I went back and looked at the speeches in 2008 by Hillary Clinton, McCain, and Obama; and compared them to the four remaining Republican contenders and President Obama so far this year.

Here’s the result of looking just at the nouns:

The key is:   Clinton — magenta circles; Obama 2008 — red circles, McCain — light blue stars;

Gingrich — green circles; Paul — yellow circles; Romney — blue circles; Santorum — black circles; Obama 2012 — red squares.

Recall that the way to interpret these plots is that points far from the origin are more interesting speeches (in the sense that they use more variable word patterns) while different directions represent different “themes” in the words used.

The most obvious difference is that the topics talked about were much more wide-ranging in 2008 than they have been this year. This may be partly because of the early stage of the campaign, the long Republican primary season keeping those candidates focused on a narrow range of topics aimed at the base, or a change in the world that has focused our collective attention on different, and fewer, topics.

This can be teased out a bit by looking at the words that are associated with each direction and distance. The next figure shows the nouns that were actually used (only those that are substantially above the median level of interestingness are labelled):

You can see that there are four “poles” or topics that differentiate the speech content. To the right are words associated with the economy, but from a consumer perspective. At the bottom are words associated with energy. To the left are actually two groups of words, although they interleave a little. At the lower end are words associated with terrorism and the associated wars and threats. At the upper end are words associated with the human side of war and patriotism.

These two figures can be lined up with each other to get a sense of which candidates are talking about which topics. The 2012 speeches and Obama’s 2008 speeches all lean heavily towards the economic words. In 2008, McCain and Clinton largely talked about the war/security issues, with a slight bias by Clinton towards the patriotism cluster.

Obama’s 2012 speeches tend towards the energy cluster but, at this point, quite weakly given the overall constellation of topics and candidates.

The other thing that is noticeable is how similar the topics for some of the Republican contenders are: their speeches cluster quite tightly.

Negative words in the campaign

Yesterday we looked at the use of positive words in the campaign. Today, I want to present the use of negative words.

We saw the President Obama is much better at using positive words than the Republican contenders; but they are all about the same at using negative words. Note that these two flavors of words are not necessarily opposites; someone can use both positive and negative words at high rates (although that itself might be interesting).

Here are the speeches according to their patterns of negative word use:

Again, distance from the origin indicates intensity of negative word use, and direction indicates different words being used.

Romney has the strongest use of negative words (and the associated words are ones like “disappointments” and “worrying”). Ron Paul also has quite strong use of negative words. His word choices are quite different from those of the other candidates, though; they include “bankrupt”, “flawed” and “inconvenient”.

President Obama and Gingrich have moderate levels of negative word use; the most popular word for both of them is “problem”, followed by “challenge”.

Santorum has the lowest levels of negative word use of all five of them.

The differences are interesting because they shed some light on how each candidate views those aspects of the situation that are not favorable to them. Obama and Gingrich have a more proactive view: negatives to them are problems. The other candidates have a more outward focus on the source of difficulties and, at the same time, a more negative inward focus, that is they use negative words that reflect how they feel about themselves.

I also ran an experiment weighting the positive words positively and the negative words negatively, to see if there is any ranking from, as it were, most positive person to most negative person. It turns out that there isn’t such a ranking. All of them use mixtures of positive and negative words, different mixtures for each, but all of about the same ratio of positivity to negativity.

Positive words in the campaign

Yesterday I posted about the content of the speeches of the campaigners for the 2012 presidential election cycle: the Republican contenders and President Obama. Today I have similar results for the use of positive words.

Here are the speeches:

The figure should be interpreted like this:  distance from the origin indicates intensity of positive word use; direction indicates the use of a different set of positive words. So President Obama is much more positive than the Republican contenders, of which Gingrich is noticeably more positive than the rest. These are only based on the use of positive words so a placement close to the origin should be interpreted as the absence of positive words, not any kind of negativity (stay tuned). In other words, speeches near the origin are not positive (they could be either neutral or negative but this analysis can’t differentiate).

Some of the positive words associated with President Obama are: “profitable”, “creative”, “efficiency” and “outstanding”.

Some of the positive words associated with Gingrich are: “tremendous”, “optimistic”, “gains”, “happiness”, and “positive” itself.

You can see why the Republican approval numbers are dropping — people pick up on the tone of speeches, and they are attracted to positive language — which they aren’t getting. Even Gingrich’s positive words are mostly about the improvement (perceived) in his chances, not in the wider US situation.

Content in Presidential Campaign Speeches

Last week I posted details of the level of “persona deception” among the Republican presidential candidates and President Obama. Persona deception measures how much a candidate is trying to present himself as “better” in some way than he really is. This is the essence of campaigning — we don’t elect politicians based on the quality of their proposals; and we don’t fail to elect them because they tell us factual lies. Almost everything is based on our assessment of character which we get from appearance and behavior, and also from language.

Today I’ll post a description of the different content of the speeches so far in 2012. This is less informative than levels of deception, but it does give some insight into what candidates are thinking is of interest or importance to the voters they are currently targeting. Here is an overview of the topic space:

You can see that most of the Republican candidates are talking about very similar things. In fact, the speeches in the upper right-hand corner are associated strongly with words such as “greatness”, “freedom”, “opportunity”, “principles” and “prosperity” — all very abstract nouns without much content that could come back to haunt them.

Gingrich’s speeches towards the bottom of the figure are quite different, although still associated with quite abstract words: “bureaucracy”, “media”, “pipeline”, “elite”, “establishment”. These are almost all things that he is against — stay tuned for an analysis of negative word use later in the week.

Obama’s speeches, on the left-hand side, are heavily oriented to manufacturing associated with words such as: “cars”, “hi-tech”, “plant”, “oil”, “demand”, “prices”.

What a candidate chooses to talk about seems to be a mix of his personal hobbyhorses (at the time) and some judgement of what issues are of interest to the general public, or at least which can create daylight between one candidate’s position and the others. From this perspective, Gingrich separates himself from the other Republicans quite well. Somewhat surprisingly, Ron Paul’s content is not very different from that of Romney and Santorum. Probably this can be accounted for as a function of the three of them all trying to appeal to a very similar segment of the base. Whether Gingrich is consciously trying to address different issues, or whether his history or personality compel him to is not clear.

2012 US Election, Republicans plus President Obama

Yesterday I posted details about the levels of persona deception in the speeches by the Republican candidates since the beginning of 2012. In striking contrast to the 2008 cycle, the speeches fall along a single axis, indicating widespread commonalities in the way that they use words, particularly the words of the deception model.

Today I’ve included President Obama’s speeches this year in the mix. I’ve tried to select only those speeches where there was an audience. Of course, for a sitting president, the distinction between an ordinary speech and a campaign speech is difficult to draw. Almost all of these are labelled as campaign events at whitehouse.gov.

Here is the plots of the persona deception levels, with Obama’s speeches added in magenta.

Generally speaking, Obama’s levels of persona deception (see yesterday’s post to be clear on what this means) are in the low range compared to the Republican presidential candidates. This is quite different from what happened in the 2008 cycle, where his levels were almost always well above those of McCain and Clinton. It’s not altogether surprising, though. First, he can no longer be the mirror in which voters see what they want to see since he has a substantial and visible track record. Second, he doesn’t have to try as hard to project a persona (at least at this stage of the campaign) since he has no competitor. I expect that his values will climb as the campaign progresses, particularly after the Republican nominee becomes an actual person and not a potential one.

The interesting point is the outlier at the top left of the figure. This is Obama’s speech to AIPAC. Clearly this is not really a campaign speech, so the language might be expected to be different. On the other hand, if it were projected onto the single-factor line formed by the other speeches, it would be much more towards the deceptive end of that axis. Since the underlying model detects all kinds of deception, not just that associated with persona deception in campaigns, this may be revealing of the attitude of the administration to the content expressed in this speech.

Content in election speeches

I went back and looked at the collection of speeches by the three contenders in the 2008 U.S.presidential election, not from the point of view of spin, but just looking at what they were about. The results were a little surprising. Despite all of the thinking and polling that goes into a campaign, the speeches were about only three topics.

Structure of word usage in speeches

These three topics are: the economy, associated with words such as crisis, jobs, plan, pay; security, associated with words such as war, threat, Iraq, allies; and family, associated with words such as parents, children, living. This last group features only early in the campaign and a single speech by Obama given on Fathers Day.

It’s no surprise that these topics appear. What does seem surprising is how little else was mentioned: other topics words are all hidden in the center of the figure indicating that their pattern of appearance in not very interesting.



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