Wordling last night’s debate: John McCain’s answers, and what does it all mean?

Debates, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

Earlier today, I wrote “Can we Wordle? Yes, we can!” Wordle being a toy for generating “word clouds” from any given text. I created a Wordle of all of Obama’s answers during last night’s debate. (Again, the hat-tip for the idea goes to The Monkey Cage, which did a Wordle of the Vice-Presidential debate, both candidates in one).

Still using the of same transcript, here’s the Wordle for John McCain’s words:

Click to see large.

So how do the two compare? And what words stand out for prominence – or absence?

Process-wise, what struck me is that Obama spoke slightly more (some 6,720 words) than McCain (about 6,550), and that McCain made more short quips and interjections. The dynamic of frontrunner versus underdog? McCain needed to be on the attack after all, push for some kind of break to revive his chances, while Obama’s main goal must have been to keep ‘er steady and not disrupt his comfortable lead in the polls.

An easily recognizable word in the McCain Wordle is friends – as in, “my friends”, McCain’s catchphrase. Another marked feature of the McCain Wordle is that America, Americans and to a lesser extent American are among the most prominent words. United and States are big too. The American President America is waiting for! In the Obama Wordle, America, American and Americans are all present, but very small.

The prominence of Well, like and look in McCain’s Wordle makes him look curiously like a Valley girl. But he’s also got thank fairly large in there, and Tom (Brokaw). Obama had less time for such niceties and spoke more directly to the audience, over Tom’s head.

People is one of the biggest words in both Wordles – a measure of the populism in today’s economic crisis rhetorics? Talking about the economy: it’s a medium-sized word in McCain’s Wordle, and curiously absent in Obama’s. Jobs, too, feature in McCain’s Wordle, if in a smallish to medium-sized font, while it’s tiny in Obama’s. That’s unexpected, considering the praise for Obama’s keener address to middle class anxieties in the last debate.

On the other hand, remember the flap last time about how often Obama actually mentioned the middle class, and McCain never did? Well, they did it again: Obama mentioned the middle class four times, McCain never. Libertarians, however, might frown at the prominence of government, right, care and help in Obama’s Wordle, much larger than budget.

Here’s the Obama Wordle again:

Obama’s Wordle can also be interpreted as showcasing a greater urgency (in the face of the economic crisis?). Going is the single largest word – all the things he’s going to do! Now is in the top eight words. Making is big too. McCain on the other hand has working prominently in there, unlike Obama. It’s mostly in the context of “get Washington working again”, lots of working across the aisle, working together with the Pakistanis also. McCain as can-do pragmatist?

There’s a notable absence too. War, what war? In McCain’s Wordle, Iraq is small, very small – as small as Russia, and barely larger than Georgia and the Russians. Otherwise the map is notably blank, even Iran is unexpectedly absent, there’s just unspecified countries. Obama’s Wordle on the other hand is a veritable geography test: Georgia, Pakistan, Korea, Iran, Afghanistan. (He’s also got Bin and Laden in there, unlike McCain.) But Iraq is among the smallest of country names, smaller than Iran, than Afghanistan, than Pakistan, as small as Korea. For a candidate who launched his campaign in the primaries with the Iraq war as a central theme, that’s remarkable.

Similarly, change – Obama’s initial hallmark word – is quite small, and believe understandably smaller still. It’s also noteworthy that Bush is small in Obama’s Wordle, perhaps indicating his desire to be more than a new ABB candidate. He’s entirely absent in McCain’s, of course.

In fact, McCain mentioned President Bush just three times – and every one of those times in order to distance himself from the President and emphasise where he disagrees with him. Is there any precedent for the candidate of an incumbent party to so comprehensively reject the fellow partisan he is to succeed? (Ford/Nixon maybe?)

On a similar note, the New York Times today cleverly pointed out that McCain “did not mention Ms. Palin once.” In fact, Obama never deigned her a mention either. This, however, is a somewhat less than fair bit of point-scoring on the part of the NYT, because it doesnt mention that Joe Biden was never mentioned by either candidate either.

Health on the other hand appears about equally prominent in both candidates’ Wordles – and that’s fairly prominent. But while tax appears in Obama’s, McCain’s has tax and taxes too. Obama on the other hand has a prominent energy, which is lacking in McCain’s.

Now imagine that last sentence without italics, and you may have a good observation on the state of the race.


1 Comment

  1. sozobe  •  Oct 8, 2008 @8:48 am

    Without italics… heh. Yeah, that’s a good point though.

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