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US Presidential Debate: Shift in Obama’s “will” and Romney’s “can” from the second debate

23 October 2012

23 Oct 2012

Expert System, the semantic technology company, today released the results of its linguistic and semantic analysis of the third and final presidential debate between President Barack Obama and challenger, former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.

Analysis Hightlights

In this debate, Governor Romney spoke more, using shorter sentences with a slightly simpler construction (a total of 554 clauses with an average of two prepositions per clause), versus President Obama who used approximately three prepositions per clause (for a total of 393 clauses). As in the previous two debates, the language style and words choice of both candidates can be classified as usual or common, and likely reflect the candidates’ attempts to reach a wide and diverse electorate.

Semantic analysis distinguishes the most important words and concepts being conveyed in text, determined by a sophisticated algorithm and not by frequency. Looking at the word choices that shaped the candidates’ responses, semantic analysis highlights the contextual aspects that differentiate them. For example, while the main categories of the candidates’ responses were similar (“politics” was in first place for both, and “military,” “economics” and “commerce” were in both the candidates’ top four), the main words or concepts within the categories diverged a bit. Within this context, the concept of America as expressed as “America” or “country” was cited in first position for both, followed by Obama’s focus on “China”, “work”, “Israel” , “small business” and “military”. Romney cited “government”, “Pakistan”, “Syria”,” “Iran” and “military”.

The verbs used most frequently by the candidates reflect the same sequence as in the first debate: After “be,” the verbs most used by Romney are “have”, “get” and “say”, while for Obama , after “be,” “do” is in second place, followed by “have” and “make (sure)”. However, looking at the use of modal verbs compared to the previous debates seems to indicate a shift: Romney made greater use of “can” (indicative of permission), while decreasing his use of “will” or “would”; Obama relied on an increased use of “will” and “would” (indicating future intent) and a decreased use of “can”.