On the evening of July 25, 2011, President Barrack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner addressed the American people on the matter of resolving the crisis surrounding the country’s debt ceiling. The current debt ceiling stands at $14.2 trillion and must be raised to cover the nation’s obligations. This has engendered a political debate as the best way to accomplish this objective. Alternative proposals place more or less emphasis on increasing revenues, decreasing government spending, and ensuring future budgets are balanced.
It’s estimated that the U.S. government will exceed its capacity to function within the current debt ceiling sometime in early August. Thus, with only one week before the end of July, President Obama and Speaker Boehner brought their respective positions to the American people.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (left) and President Barack Obama (right) | AP Photo
First, we examine President Obama’s address. It was over 2300 words and lasted over 14 minutes. We assessed the President’s address in the category of political speeches and found that EffectCheck scored it as evoking high levels of anxiety and hostility, high to very high levels of depression, low confidence, and typical levels of compassion and happiness.
Next, we look at Speaker Boehner’s speech. It was much briefer, in comparison, with only 930 words and running a bit over 5 minutes. EffectCheck scored the Speaker’s remarks as evoking high levels of anxiety, but only typical levels of hostility and depression, high confidence, and typical levels of compassion and happiness.
The histogram below compares the evoked emotions of the two speeches as assessed by EffectCheck. Whereas President Obama and Speaker Boehner evoked similar levels of anxiety, compassion, and happiness – which were also levels that are typical of political speeches – President Obama evoked much higher levels of hostility and depression, while Speaker Boehner evoked much greater confidence.
President Obama’s addresses are often written in three parts. The introduction typically has greater emphasis in evoking anxiety, hostility, and depression; the conclusion typically has greater emphasis on confidence, compassion, and happiness. Tonight’s speech is more difficult to diagram, but we can at least examine the first and last few paragraphs.
The first four paragraphs evoked extremely high anxiety and depression, high hostility, and more typical amounts of confidence, compassion, and happiness. The final four paragraphs evoked much greater confidence, compassion, and happiness, and less anxiety and depression. This fits the general style of the President’s addresses.
Despite the “strong finish,” the President’s speech evoked only a low level of confidence overall and the conclusion did not mollify the unusually high level of evoked depression. Speaker Boehner’s address was more consistent in evoking confidence without raising evoked levels of hostility or depression. Partisan listeners and readers will be biased by their own perspectives. Our EffectCheck program assessed these two addresses without concern to identifying the emotions evoked as a function of political persuasion. Instead, it operated from the perspective of a generally unbiased reader or listener, which is presumably the desired audience for each gentleman.