The Futility Monster

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Posts Tagged ‘political speech analysis’

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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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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The First Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 17, 2010 @ 10:21

Though I’m terribly excited about last night’s 30% poll rating for the Lib Dems, it worries me that we have peaked too early and will run out of gas before the finish line. I will wait for more polling developments before commenting further…

In the meantime, I’ve had a bit of fun with the debate transcript. For your viewing pleasure, the Wordles of the speeches of the three main party leaders…

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

This is genuinely fascinating stuff. Gordon Brown barely ever tells us what he “thinks”, whereas Nick Clegg and David Cameron were always doing it. I can’t believe that this is deliberate, but it would certainly highlight a lack of self-confidence on Gordon’s part.

The fact that Gordon’s favourite word was “got” also says something for his manner of speaking. “Got” is an ugly word to begin with, but to say it 65 times (Clegg: 20; Cameron: 24) is remarkable. It highlights Gordon Brown’s method of continuously imploring other people, agencies or departments to do something. Not entirely convincing after 13 years in office.

Note, too, that Cameron and Brown both referred to each other, and Nick, so many times that it appeared in their top 100 words. Cameron said the word “Gordon” 16 times. Nick Clegg, on the other hand, barely referred to them at all (David: 5; Gordon: 5). This lack of personalising his opponents, dismissing them as representatives of a broken system is very illuminating about how Nick portrayed himself as the outsider.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions and share them in the comments.

Finally, just so we can put to bed any accusations that Clegg got too much coverage in the debate, here are some more statistics…

First Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 5588 5560 5476
Sentences 298 302 294
Words per sentence 18.7 18.4 18.6
Flesch Reading Ease 67.0 70.8 66.7
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 8.4 7.9 8.5

These numbers are slightly less exciting, but they do point out that Alastair Stewart was incredibly fair. They were following the rules perfectly behind the scenes, ensuring that Alastair got the balance exactly right. Though there may have been slight variations in time, they all roughly managed to say the same amount of words. Clegg even said slightly less than the others, and yet still is perceived to have won. It’s wot you do with them that counts, remember.

They all speak so the average American 8th grader could understand: roughly 13 or 14 years old. The figures for reading ease also bear that out. That’s no surprise, but probably isn’t all that deliberate either. Most politicians have been doing so all their lives and consequently know no other way of talking to the public. Then again, average speech is never particularly challenging anyway.

For comparative purposes, I stuck one of my academic essays through the grinder, and got a remarkable 15th grade score. 15th grade doesn’t exist, but basically means only academic fools would follow the ludicrously long sentences and mega long words with multiple syllables. Oh, how pretentious I feel now. A 28 word sentence average is enough to drive anyone to despair. That’s why politicians, also trying to explain difficult concepts and get across their views, keep the sentences shorter. That’s why they all got 18 word sentences. Clever buggers.

That’s enough, I think, but let’s finish with just a bit of fun. How did Alastair Stewart do?

Alastair Stewart

Suffice it to say, “MR CAMERON!”, “MR CLEGG!” and “MR BROWN!” should become the catchphrases of the election.

SOURCES

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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