The Futility Monster

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The Second Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 23, 2010 @ 11:17

Time for some fun with the second debate transcript. Before we begin, might I suggest opening my post from this time last week, because it’s very useful for comparative purposes.

There are a few surprises in store for this week’s word analysis of the debate. Last week we discovered Gordon Brown likes the word “got”, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg like to think. We also found out that Alastair Stewart did a great job of ensuring everyone got the chance to say about the same amount.

But first, the bit that we all enjoy, the Wordles!

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

What I found most striking this week compared with last is the fact that clearly some big lessons have been learned. Whilst Gordon Brown still has difficulty telling us what he thinks, he is now a bit more balanced. The similarity between the kind of words being used is also telling: they’re copying each other’s best bits to some degree. And no one did that more than Gordon, stealing Nick Clegg’s best lines from last week on several occasions. Squabbling children?

Starting with Nick Clegg, my first point is that he seemed to deviate from his winning formula from last week: merely setting out his stall. This time, it was more about the people. Not a mistake, but it clearly hasn’t worked as well. If you look at last week, that’s what both Cameron and Brown were doing, and Clegg’s difference from that path worked well. This time , he chose to be much broader, more scattergun, and it has caused his coherent message of “What I think” or “What the Liberal Democrats think” to be diluted. The prominence of the word “change” too clearly shows the Lib Dems have been watching Obama’s debate performances too much.

He also failed by getting too involved in what he would term the old politics. There is some evidence from the wiggly lines, both when I watched last night and from the 2008 US debates, that direct attacks on a person don’t really work, and can reflect badly on you instead. In the first debate, Nick hardly referred to the other leaders. This time, he said the word “Gordon” 18 times, and “David” 14 times (cf. 5 and 5 last time). That was a mistake. The winning formula for him is to ignore their pathetic attempts to bring him down to their level, and rise above it. That’s what I suggested yesterday, and I think that’s borne out here.

As for David Cameron, his performance was much more controlled. Thematically, he did better. Look at the size of the words “make”, “need”, “want” and “country” relative to the others. That has to be deliberate. A very careful strategy to set out the difference his party would make.

But guess what? Cameron learned from Clegg. References to Gordon? 8 (cf. 16 last time). References to Nick. Believe it or not, just 4. It’s such a reversal that it can’t have failed to influence the way the debate proceeded, and it too must have been deliberate. Now David Cameron was the man rising above the other two. His messaging was clearer. He likes the word “actually”. Clichéd, yes. Normal sounding? Most definitely. That’s what Clegg did last week. Cameron stole it from him.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was still Gordon Brown. He said the ugly words “got” or “get” a stunning 94 times (Clegg: 47; Cameron: 69). He is a clunker in every sense of the word. He implores. He demands. We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to do that. It’s all very authoritarian. And yet, he definitely enriched his speaking this week. He talked about more issues, and had a more balanced approach. That’s not how I remember it; he seemed to repeat himself a lot last night, but the numbers here don’t lie.

To finish, let’s look at what has provided me with the biggest shock…

Second Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 6077 5599 5940
Sentences 319 295 299
Words per sentence 19.0 18.9 19.8
Flesch Reading Ease 66.4 69.3 65.9
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 8.7 8.2 8.9

Last week, all three of them managed about 5,500 words. This week, only David Cameron got that. Gordon Brown managed to speak an extra 500. No wonder he got more issues in, being more balanced.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg also spoke nearly 500 more words, after speaking the least last week (5476). That didn’t work out for him. It allowed him to say too much on some issues. He tried to be more robust, and get more involved. He was, I suppose, responding to the challenges that Brown and Cameron were demanding of him, whereas they largely ignored him last time. Their plan worked, but they dragged Clegg into their bearpit in the process. This week, he did not look and act sufficiently different to the others. He became more of a brawler. Hence the different, less positive, response from the electorate.

Clegg’s sentences also became longer, suggesting he got tied up more by trying to explain himself and complicated ideas. It doesn’t work. The electorate tune out.

David Cameron can feel a little hard done by, having not been given as fair a crack of the whip as the others. Which then makes it all the more remarkable that he did less with more. Verbosity is never rewarded in politics, and Cameron gets the plaudits here.

As last week, they all spoke at roughly the same level, with an almost uniform increase of about 0.4 in the grade level. Maybe the topics this week were more complex, making for slightly longer sentences, and definitely more syllables.

But that’s enough number crunching from me. I could go on, but this is long enough already.

So let’s finish with Adam Boulton’s wordle…

Adam Boulton

He clearly likes thanking people more than Alastair Stewart, anyway.

SOURCES

Please note my transcripts for each individual are cleaned up, no paragraphs, no line breaks, and no markers for where one part of the debate conversation began or ended. That’s the most useful form for textual analysis, and I share them with you above.

If you do anything else funky with this stuff, please place a link to it in the comments. I’d love to read it.

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One Response to “The Second Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered”

  1. […] really into this stuff, you might want to look at my equivalent post from the first debate, and the second debate, for comparative […]

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