The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

The Third Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 30, 2010 @ 10:25

Time for our final instalment of fun – with the third debate transcript this time. Before I begin, if you’re really into this stuff, you might want to look at my equivalent post from the first debate, and the second debate, for comparative purposes.

After calling this debate for Cameron last night, that impression has only been confirmed by the little exercise that follows. Executive summary: Cameron was less verbose, and hence had to be slower, more dignified… more prime ministerial.

Here go the Wordles…

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that these guys are pretty robotic when it comes to the language they use. Cameron’s message is all about “people” – and it has featured prominently in all three of his Wordles. His other favourite word appears to be “need” – in the sense that “we need” to do X, or we need noun. It’s typical opposition talk: highlighting what he would do differently.

He also continues his trend for the word “actually” – an everyday word we all use – and in this final debate took the time to hammer on the word “government”, something he hadn’t previously done to this extent. Getting home his message about the end of this government and its failure, I suspect.

Nick Clegg’s Wordles, unlike David Cameron’s however, show more of an evolution across the series. Nick’s favourite word across the three was “think”, which seemed to work well in the first debate, but perhaps it got tired in the subsequent two. But in this debate, his “think” was outshone by “people”. Not good at all, especially as it’s clearly what Cameron was already doing. In fact, as the debates have progressed, Nick’s use of “think” declined as his use of “people” increased. It meant he lost his distinctiveness.

Nick’s keenness for talking about tax in this debate cannot have been an accident. While the questions gave him the opportunity, and there was much talk about “tax credits”, it was clearly designed to get the message through on the £10,000 personal allowance. That is sensible, as it is a well received policy, and if it has stuck in some viewers minds, perhaps it may be his saving grace from a disappointing performance.

Nick has also let himself down by getting too stuck in. It was illustrated in his “yes or no?” exchange with David Cameron on immigration. The electorate don’t like it. It smacked of more of the same. I highlighted this last time:

  • Debate 1 : “David” – 5 times; “Gordon” – 5 times
  • Debate 2: “David” – 14 times; “Gordon” – 18 times
  • Debate 3: “David” – 16 times; “Gordon” –  14 times

His excuse may be that he was largely ignored in the first debate. But most of it is in his hands. He actively chose to challenge the others. Time and time again, those wiggly lines show it invariably reflects badly on the attacker.

As for Gordon Brown, his decision to attack David Cameron is reflected in the Wordle by the prominence of it. He referred to “David” 31 times and “Nick” just 11. A remarkable reversal from the first debate, where he referred to them equally (11 times), and, as we all know, most of those referrals to Nick were positive. Again, this must be deliberate.

Gordon Brown went negative on everyone yesterday. “risk” “recovery” “inheritance” “cut”… the messaging was clear and coherent. Either his training worked, or the distraction of yesterday led to a slightly less well-prepared Gordon Brown, who went back to good old Labour instincts: attack the Tories for being the party of the rich. He was on message, but it just doesn’t seem to capture the electorate’s imagination. Like I said, negativity doesn’t really work. Or in this case, maybe it’s because of the messenger…

Moving on…

Third Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 5216 5087 5350
Sentences 256 295 283
Words per sentence 20.3 17.2 18.9
Flesch Reading Ease 60.8 68.7 67.5
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.8 7.9 8.5

Out of the three debate’s statistics, this one is the most interesting. The main reason is that Nick Clegg showed that old habits die hard. Too many words. Too much waffle. When you consider that they all must have roughly got the same time to speak, to chuck in an extra 300 words over Cameron must mean Nick Clegg spoke faster.

And yet, if you put it into the context of the other two debates, this was the least Nick Clegg spoke (1: 5476; 2: 5940). The problem is that it doesn’t matter in absolute terms. It’s only the comparison on the night between the three. And I did get the impression that Nick wasn’t as disciplined, and as focused as he had been in the previous two. That is borne out by the numbers.

David Cameron, instead, shows how he has steadily grasped the debate format. Shorter sentences – the shortest by far out of all nine transcripts (3 each per debate, of course) – and always speaking at an easier to understand level.

Especially in contrast to Gordon Brown. His longer sentences and penchant for multi-syllabic words like “inheritance”, “Conservatives” and “manufacturing” are responsible for nearly getting a 10 in the grade level, by far the highest out of all the nine transcripts, and a big rise on last week. Maybe that’s why despite his punchier performance, he lost people in the detail. But that’s Gordon Brown all over: a details man in a big picture world.

There’s so much more that could be done with these numbers, but that’s me for the day. I could draw some graphs comparing all these numbers side by side across the three debates, but why bother? No one’s reading anyway.

Instead, as per tradition, we finish with the moderator’s Wordle. Mr David Dimbleby:

David Dimbleby

Just look at that supreme example of BBC impartiality. Almost every name identical size. Perfect.

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 Third Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered”

  1. RA said

    Thanks again – and for your comments and anaylsis. I’ve enjoyed this a lot!

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