What 2016 Candidates Have Talked About the Most During Debates
We parsed the transcripts of every debate since August, and counted the most common words.
There was an unmistakable contrast between the most recent Republican and Democratic presidential debates. Donald Trump opened the Republican debate on Mar. 3 by talking about his penis size. Meanwhile, the most explosive moment of the Democratic debate three days later was probably when Bernie Sanders said to Hillary Clinton, in an assertive tone, “excuse me, I’m talking.”
As such, the Democratic debates may appear to be more substantive and focused on policy, while the Republican debates seem to be little more than vapid—if entertaining—television. But does the tone of the debates translate into the actual words spoken?
We parsed the transcripts of every debate since August, and counted which words candidates in each party said the most. We filtered out articles and common words, like “the” and “really,” as well as audience reactions and questions from moderators.
Here are the 25 words Republican candidates have said the most:
“Hands” did not make the cut, nor did “Little Marco” or “Lying Ted,” as Trump likes to call his opponents. “Donald” did make the list, at 204 mentions, but “Trump” did not. Of the 204 mentions of “Donald,” 141 did not include “Trump.” And “Mr. Trump” appeared just 58 times.
The top words mentioned by Republicans related to policy were “tax” and “ISIS.” (The IRS has a long reach, but even it might have trouble collecting 1040s from Raqqa.)
And here is what Democrats have been talking about the most:
“Wall Street” is high up on the list, and that’s mostly because Sanders brings it up frequently. The next most-used words related to policy were “health” and “care.” They are usually used together, of course, but “care” was said more than “health.”
In both parties, “people” has been the word used the most. That’s largely because it’s a word that, uh, people commonly use, but also because constantly referring to the public is a typical tactic in political rhetoric. Candidates in both parties also talked a lot about America, other candidates, people and money.
In terms of policy, it’s no big surprise that Republicans like to talk more about taxes and terrorism, while the Democrats focus on banks and health care. But how much do the candidates talk about issues that aren’t at the center of their respective agendas, like taxes for the Democrats, banks for the Republicans, and guns, infrastructure, or trade for both parties? We counted that, too:
Of course, candidates can potentially talk about policies at length without mentioning any of these specific words. It’s also worth noting that we were unable to quantify the discussion of certain issues. Instances of “police,” for example, could link to a discussion about police shootings, or could be Jeb Bush talking about whether the United States should be “the world’s policeman.” Therefore, we chose keywords that were the most likely to link directly and predictably to specific policy discussions.
So far in this election season, about 100,000 words have been spoken by candidates at the six Democratic primary debates, and about 200,000 by candidates at the 11 Republican debates. Candidates in both parties will meet to debate several more times leading into their respective conventions in July.