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.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.