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.

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