Case Study: Obama’s Statement at October 8, 2013 Press Conference

October 9, 2013

By David B. Fogel, Ph.D.

On October 8, 2013, President Obama held a press conference to address the situation of the partial government shutdown and forthcoming debt ceiling deadline. He opened the press conference with a statement of over 2200 words, which was reprinted by various news services and can be found here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transcript-president-obamas-oct-8-news-conference-on-the-shutdown-and-debt-limit/2013/10/08/866088c0-3038-11e3-8906-3daa2bcde110_story.html

Using EffectCheck® to analyze the word choices that the President offered, his opening statement was assessed as compared to other political speeches. Doing so showed (Figure 1) that overall his speech was higher in anxiety, hostility, and depression than average political speeches in the EffectCheck database and lower in confidence, compassion, and happiness. The lack of confidence is perhaps not what the President or his speech writers would have wanted to evoke. Figure 2 shows a 100-word moving window through the speech, which reveals that the lexical evocation both starts and ends high in anxiety and hostility, and depression correlates highly with these emotions as well. In stark contrast, Figure 3 shows the 100-word moving window for confidence, which was low throughout most of the statement. The brief peak of evoked confidence came when the president was addressing what raising the debt ceiling does not do, and praising the military, or identifying veteran’s benefits and Social Security. (The paragraph begins with “And because….”)

The reaction to the press conference itself has mostly followed partisan lines, and thus it is difficult at this early stage to address the effectiveness of the communication. Polling data from AP-GfK through the day before the press conference showed that the GOP was receiving the majority of the blame for the Federal government shutdown; however, the president’s approval rating had fallen to 37 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. Congress fared worse with only 5 percent approval. (See link). It would be interesting to see what effects would occur if the main players involved were able to lexically evoke confidence, compassion, and happiness, rather than rely so heavily on anxiety, hostility, and depression to persuade their audience.

Obama Speech October 08, 2013>

Figure 1. Overall EffectCheck® assessment of Obama’s statement before the 10/8/13 press conference relative to other political speeches.



President Obama Speech Word Cloud

Figure 2. 100-word moving window analysis of lexically evoked anxiety, hostility, and depression from President Obama’s opening statement at the 10/8/13 press conference.



President Obama Speech Word Cloud

Figure 3. 100-word moving window analysis of lexically evoked confidence from President Obama’s opening statement at the 10/8/13 press conference.