The consensus that President Barack Obama was outmatched in his first debate with Mitt Romney cohered in the first half hour of Wednesday's encounter. Romney appeared sharp, focused and on-message, while Obama was subdued, unexcitable and unexciting.
If you read the transcript of the debate, however, scrubbed of the fillers and stammers in Obama's locution, the debate seems like a fairly substantial and dispassionate exchange of ideas—the precise sort of boringness at the core of a functional democracy. Unfortunately for the president, I'm not sure there is a single person who consumes debates this way. The candidates produced more than 14,000 words between them, and it's not prose that exactly leaps off the page. (For example, "Let me mention another regulation in Dodd-Frank.")
Because debates are among the last unscripted events of presidential campaigns, the transcripts hold a few clues about how the candidates view the world differently. I like word clouds, even if they're grotesquely overused by anyone possessing a blog and some embed code. They distill the guts of a debate in a visual way that offers a surprisingly complex picture of what was said.
With political events, however, they tend to show you what you already knew: Both candidates say "America" a lot, talk about the economy and argue over whatever else is on the agenda at that moment.
Instead, I decided to run the numbers on a different question. What were the words that each candidate said the most that the other avoided? Here the results get more interesting.
For example, Obama said "loophole" nine times, while Romney never said it. Meanwhile, Romney referred to "regulation" 16 times to Obama's three.
Here's another: Obama was responsible for 20 of the 23 mentions of "class," while Romney said "income" 24 times to Obama's five.
And here's my favorite: Obama prefers "already"—as in, "my tax plan has already lowered taxes for 98 percent of families"—while Romney prefers "again"—as in, "I'll get incomes up again."
It is very easy to predict what candidates will talk about during a debate. Less obvious, and more interesting, is what they willfully do not talk about, even as the other guy presses the point.
Try any word you like in the interactive below:
Here are 10 of the "most Obama" words and 10 of the "most Romney" words.
- Politics & Government
- Mitt Romney
- President Barack Obama