Comparing the Lexical Effects of Speeches from President Obama, President Clinton, and Governor Romney

September 13, 2012

By David B. Fogel, Ph.D.

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions offered numerous opportunities for crafting emotional language to affect listeners to be more sympathetic to their message (and less sympathetic to the other side). Here I focus on the speeches given by President Obama, President Clinton, and Governor Romney, using EffectCheck® to assess their lexical impacts.

President Obama

Barack Obama’s speech was transcribed at 4493 words, and can be found here. I have included the preliminary repetitive "thank yous" that were offered when he started his speech. Using the category of "political speech," Mr. Obama’s address scored as shown below:


President Obama Speech EffectCheck Analysis Score

Thus the lexical impact was mostly typical for political speech across the four emotional scales of anxiety, hostility, depression, confidence, but slightly higher in compassion, and happiness. Using the new moving-window analysis feature, EffectCheck shows that the president had no consistent pattern of effecting confidence, compassion, and happiness. Instead the lexical effects varied inconsistently across the speech, as shown below:


President Obama Speech EffectCheck 100-Word Window

In contrast, anxiety, hostility, and depression were reduced going into the close of the address (as would be expected), but were also mostly lower in the second quarter of his speech (between "We’re making things again" and "That’s our future."):


President Obama Speech EffectCheck 100-Word Window

President Obama’s address was otherwise unremarkable lexically.

President Clinton

Bill Clinton’s speech was transcribed at 5445 words (more than 20% longer than President Obama’s address), and can be found here. I again included the preliminary repetitive "thank yous" that were offered when he started his speech. Using the category of "political speech," Mr. Clinton’s address scored as shown below:


Bill Clinton Speech EffectCheck Analysis Score

Interestingly, despite Clinton’s obvious swagger and the connection on display between him and his audience, the lexical impact of the speech was lower in confidence (and not high in any other emotion). The figure below shows a 100-word moving window analysis of Clinton’s speech in terms of confidence, compassion, and happiness. There is an obvious confidence and happiness gap that occurs between words 3100-4500. This part of Clinton’s speech runs from when he begins addressing "Obamacare" and concludes when addressing his assertions about Republican tax cuts to solve the country’s deficit problems.


Bill Clinton Speech EffectCheck 100-Word Window

Correspondingly, Clinton’s evoked levels of hostility, anxiety, and depression were much higher in this same section, and highest when addressing “Obamacare” and counterintuitively grew lower as Clinton turned ridicule against his assessment of Republican tax cut plans.



Bill Clinton Speech EffectCheck 100-Word Window

Governor Romney

Mitt Romney’s speech was transcribed at 4493 words and can be found here. As with Obama and Clinton, I again included the preliminary repetitive "thank yous" that were offered when he started his speech. I noticed, however, that the transcription available did not reflect his closing accurately. In particular, it omitted entirely his reference to “Thank you so very much. May God bless you. May God bless the American people. And may God bless the United States of America.” This is a curious omission in a transcription of a presidential candidate’s speech, since it is obligatory language. After verifying the exact words that Romney used by rewatching video of his speech, I added those words to the transcript.

Using the category of “political speech,” Mr. Romney’s address scored as shown below:



Mitt Romney Speech EffectCheck Analysis Score

In contrast to President Obama and President Clinton, Governor Romney’s speech evoked lexically only low levels of anxiety, hostility, and depression, while it was high in evoked confidence, compassion, and happiness.

The graph below shows that Romney opened and closed his address with high to very high levels of evoked confidence, compassion, and happiness. He had a gap in these emotions from words 2600-3200, which corresponds to when Romney compares President Obama with President Carter and concludes with his own plan for creating jobs.

Mitt Romeny Speech EffectCheck 100-Word Window

The graph below shows that during this same period of his speech, Romney builds anxiety, hostility, and depression, before releasing it as he talks about his own plans. Overall, there is much less evoked hostility, anxiety, and depression in Romney’s address than observed in the other two speakers.

Mitt Romeny Speech EffectCheck 100-Word Window

Conclusion

Each of these speakers intended to appeal to a certain audience, which certainly included the base of each political party. Each speaker was criticized by his opponents and complimented by his friends. (Bill Clinton received the greatest overall praise)

EffectCheck is not designed presently to reflect bias in Republican or Democratic language as perceived by political bias. Thus, the analysis most properly reflects what may have been the lexical impact on independent, undecided listeners. In that case, it is clear that Governor Romney evoked greater confidence, compassion, and happiness than President Obama or President Clinton, and lower anxiety, hostility, and depression as well.

Lexical impact is one important component of crafting communications. Polls taken subsequent to the conventions have generally favored President Obama; however, criticism has been aimed at these polls for oversampling Democrats and undersampling Independents. (See http://www.examiner.com/article/mitt-romney-would-lead-eight-unskewed-data-from-newest-cnn-orc-poll). Thus, it is difficult to assess the true impact of the candidates’ speeches, particularly on the undersampled Independent or undecided voters. The analysis here presents one additional viewpoint on that potential impact.