THE BLOG
09/20/2012 04:56 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2012

The Campaign Language of Obama and Romney

Modern presidential campaigns are sensationalized in such a way that it can be difficult to recall the distant primary days. So while the campaign teams of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama continue punching it out ahead of November, this is a look back at each candidate's statements over 20 months (January 2011 to September 2012) derived from analysis of 37,591 unique quotations by Romney and 124,419 unique quotations by Obama identified in 150,000+ online sources by Recorded Future.

Here is the history of their campaigns:

Quotes Per Day

Romney Quotes - January 2011 to September 2012

Romney Quotes Timeline

Days with the most reported quotations: *Note: The "Unique" score above takes syndicated reports of the same quotation and only counts them once.

Obama Quotes - January 2011 to September 2012

There were more than 3x the number of unique quotations attributed to Obama (124,419) than to Romney (37,591) during the same time frame. The days with the most reported quotations are as follows: *Note: The "Unique" score above takes syndicated reports of the same quotation and only counts them once.

Most Commonly Used Words

Common Words in Romney Quotes - January 2011 to September 2012

The breakdown is not so surprising: criticism of Obama, use of "president" in self-reference to policy intentions, and terms like "jobs" and "economy". Language related foreign policy is notably absent as the campaign has focused on plans to improve the economy.

The context of "tax" versus "taxes" is also worth investigating given their prominence. The former often references his tax releases and Obamacare while the latter is heavily in reference to financial history and policy intentions.

Common Words in Obama Quotes - January 2011 to September 2012

What are the terms most used by Obama? The top four are "people", "president", "American", and "time". The first two terms are also present in Romney's "top four", and six of the top twelve most mentioned terms are the same for both candidates, perhaps establishing what we consider "presidential" language.

For Obama, "jobs" tops "tax", and "economy" and "country" appear a bit more frequently than they do in Romney's statements, the most notable difference in language is Romney's mentioning of Obama by name in his quotations while Romney appears in a smaller share of Obama's statements.

Shifts In Language Over Time

Share of Language in Romney Quotes

Here we can observe the emergence and dilution of particular themes over time. For instance, serving as a contrast to Obama has been key since the earliest days but the Florida primary effectively ended references to Newt Gingrich.

From recent months, we can spot the emergence of policy direction - "business" and "health plan" - as well as campaign strategy - a rise in references to his experience as governor of Massachusetts.

Share of Language in Obama Quotes

Picking up where the above commentary left off, we can see that while the share of Obama quotations mentioning Romney is relatively small compared to his use of other terms, mentions of Romney really picked up during June-July of 2012 in advance of the conventions.

There are also interesting bumps in the use of certain terms during significant events such as "world" and "United States" used at the time of Osama bin Laden's death and spikes in the use of "jobs" during periods of legislation and positive economic growth reports and relatively little use of the word at other times.

Share of Major Themes

Major Topics of Romney Quotations

It's easy to identify periods of time when Romney was forced to deviate from his preferred focus on the economy and government. Particularly, the lead up to early 2012 primaries shows the disruptive force of Gingrich and the significant spike in mentions of Israel surrounding his late-July speech in Jerusalem.

Major Topics of Obama Quotations

For this final graph, we selected several major themes to see how they ebbed and flowed as major topics of discussion over the last 20 months. We can easily spot defining moments in both foreign policy - "military" in early 2011 related to Libya and "nuclear" in early 2012 related to Iran and Israel - and domestic policy as "debt" took center stage during the summer of 2011 and Romney surges as an issue beginning in March 2012.

How The Data Was Done


Using the Recorded Future API, we extracted a total of 232,884 quotes attributed to Barack Obama during the period between January 1, 2011 and September 10, 2012.

Of those quotes, 124,419 were unique, and the rest were duplicates with the same quote republished by different media, blogs etc. [Sometimes different sources will do very minor alterations to a quote, like omitting a word or changing punctuation, but we considered such minor difference as unique in this study.]

For each day, and over the entire period, we then calculated the set of most commonly used word, and filtered out "small words" like pronouns, "the", and "of". We then manually selected a set of words we consider indicative of different topics, and counted the relative use of those per day to produce the final graph.

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