Romney and Obama: what their choice of words reveal

Debates favour style over substance.

Last night was the last Presidential debate, which showed a win for Obama – but these debates are much more style over substance. Here's a quick analysis of some of the words they used.

The biggest word for both Obama and Romney last night (other than the common words like “the” or “a”) was “going” (though in Obama's case “make” and “sure” run it close to the wire, implying that surety and stability are more important for the President). “Going” is a pregnant word; it implies that both candidates were looking to prove that their foreign policies have forward momentum, at least, and the similarities between the two debating styles don't end there.

Both candidates really did spend more time talking about home and economic issues than about foreign policy. Romney said “economy” more times – 16 – and “budget” - 15 – than Middle East and Israel (15 and 14), while Obama mentions “budget” (8) and “deficit” (7) as much as “security” (9) and Osama Bin Laden – who he brought up directly just six times. Both candidates are equal on Israel, incidentally, on 14 mentions.

Romney is more concerned about The Bomb than Obama, mentioning the word “nuclear” 21 times to the President's 14. He also mentioned Iran 19 times to Obama's 15 – making Romney's Iran the most name-checked country in the debate other than the United States itself – though Obama holds the numbers two and three spots with Iraq and China at 18 each.

Romney, despite basing large parts of his campaign around Chinese currency-manipulation, mentions China only 12 times; 6 less than Obama. Britain's only mention in the debate comes only when Romney says that Pakistan could soon have more nuclear warheads than us.

Mitt did speak faster than the President, though, cramming 8,368 words into the 41 minutes and 7 seconds he had the floor. Obama spoke for 35 seconds longer over the debate – but only managed 7,161 words. Over the course of the three debates Obama has spoken for quite a bit longer – eight minutes and eight seconds – than Mitt Romney, for a total of 128 minutes and 36 seconds.

Once again, making this the third debate in a row where this point has gone the President's way, the meme-point went to Obama. Following on from “binders full of women” and “Big Bird”, this one was for the line: “you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” which has already spawned spoof accounts and facebook pages. He also won the best line of the night, with “the 1980s called, they want their foreign policy back.”

Post-debate polling has called a win for Obama. CNN had the President winning 48-40 per cent, while CBS had him at 63-33 per cent and Reuters at 53 to 23 per cent. It was a fairly solid rout by the incumbent president, all told. But what this tells us is about the style – Obama talked directly at and about his opponent much more, saying “Romney” 22 times and “Governor” 36 times. Meanwhile, Romney said “President” only 30 times and didn't mention his opponent by name once.

If patriotism counted for anything, though, the challenger would have won: Romney used the word “America” a whopping 28 times, exactly double Obama's count.

Here are two wordles of the debates:

http://www.wordle.net/delete?index=5902557&d=LKEV <Obama

http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/5902558/Untitled2 <Romney

Obama. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses