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
Show Hide image

There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR