By the Numbers: The Language of Political Parties Today

You can learn a lot about politicians from the words they use. Recently Five Thirty Eight had political speech writer Jeff Nussbaum construct and annotate “the Perfect Stump Speech” for imaginary Democratic and Republican candidates. Even without the expertise of a seasoned political speechwriter, it’s possible to gain insight on the words and rhetoric of a political party through computational analysis.

To get a better sense of what political candidates are talking about this year, we decided to dig into the data. looked at transcripts from the fifteen main presidential debates that took place between August 6, 2015 and February 13, 2016—six Democratic Party debates and nine Republican Party debates in all. From these transcripts, we created two party files that contained all the words spoken at the Republican and Democratic debates respectively. Using a corpus analysis tool, we compared the individual party debate transcripts to the larger corpus of all the debate transcripts. This helped us identify words that were used more frequently by one party than the other in the debates. (Find more information on the statistics behind these calculations here.)

Below are the top twenty words favored by each party in our analysis. (We filtered names of moderators and debaters from our results.)


Since there were fewer candidates participating in the Democratic debates than in the Republican debates, the words reflected in the Democratic debates can more easily be tied to individual candidates. For example, the terms Vermont, rig, and quagmire are used more commonly by Bernie Sanders, while racism, Affordable, and immunity are used more by Hillary Clinton. It’s also interesting to note that wolf always appeared after the adjective lone in the Democratic debates.

The Republican debates covered very different topics than the Democratic debates. The Fed and the IRS were both discussed more in the Republican debates.

Interested in the word breakdown by candidate? Find the candidates’ words here.

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