Presidential Debate Redux

bush and kerryI’ve rerun my presidential debate analysis (see analyses from the first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate) on the scripts of the second presidential debate. I’ve also updated the Debate Spotter to include the new text. But this time I’ve taken a slightly different approach to the analysis. Instead of some complicated weighting scheme, I’ve decided to use a very simple technique to sort the phrases for each candidate:

  • Count the number of phrases for each candidate
  • Score each phrase as the difference between the number of times each candidate used the phrase
  • Favor longer phrases in sorting

The results follow, and I think you’ll find them much more revealing than the previous lists. I also fed both candidate’s transcripts into Microsoft Word’s AutoSummarize feature to produce a sub-100 word summary. The results are… umm… compelling. From my perspective, it seems as though Kerry is on the offensive, and Bush is backpeddling. But of course that’s just Microsoft’s take on the debate. Click on the following links to download the source Word documents. I’ll leave running the grammar checker as an exercise to the reader.

kerry041008.doc bush041008.doc


health care (10),
mr. president (6),
united states (6),
four years (4),
war without a plan (3),
general shinseki (3),
better job (3),
former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff (2),
first president in 72 years (2),
best intelligence in the world (2),
chairman of the republican party (2),
biggest deficits in american history (2),
war as a last resort (2),
one percent of america (2),
foreign relations committee (2),
drugs from canada (2),
more dangerous today (2),
income earners (2),
american business (2),
stem cell (2),
constitutional rights (2),
added money (2),
republican party (2),
justice department (2),
senator hagel (2)

In 100 words: The president says I’ve changed my mind. The first president in 72 years to lose jobs. Believed it in 1998 when Clinton was president. This president rushed to war, pushed our allies aside. This president hasn’t listened. A president’s job is to win the peace. Mr. President, countries are leaving the coalition, not joining. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s his tax plan. This president chose a tax cut over homeland security. The president blocked it. Five million people have lost their health insurance under this president. Mr. President, you’re batting 0 for 2. People’s rights have been abused.


saddam hussein (9),
my opponent (7),
al qaida (5),
united states senate (4),
13 months (4),
mass destruction (4),
war on terror (3),
most small businesses (3),
million new jobs (3),
tony blair (3),
personal opinion (3),
federal government (3),
unique threat (3),
united nations (3),
stem-cell research (3),
energy plan (3),
constitution of the united states (2),
president of the united states (2),
quality of the air (2),
subchapter s corps (2),
matter of fact (2),
government-sponsored health care (2),
medical liability reform (2),
embryonic stem-cell research (2),
kind of mindset (2),
international criminal court (2),
prescription drug coverage (2),
off-road diesel engines (2),
moving troops (2)

In 100 words: Our plan is working. We’ve already 75 percent of his people. I — listen, I — we’ve got a great country. People love America. Thanks. My opponent’s right, we need good intelligence. Right, thank you for that. We’ve got to pay our troops more. You can save tax-free. Less regulations if we want jobs here; legal reform if we want jobs here; and we’ve got to keep taxes low. It was the right decision. On the tax cut, it’s a big decision. I did the right decision. Charlie, thanks. Tomorrow, Afghanistan will be voting for a president.

10 thoughts on “Presidential Debate Redux

  1. The Debate Spotter is a nice tool, and works very fast. With frequent terms it’s a bit hard to use, though–maybe you could add some sort of KWIC display that would help one see patterns of usage.

    While working through the transcript on my own I found an error, and it seems to go all the way back to the Commission’s official transcript. They have Bush’s final comment on abortion attributed to Kerry. It’s the line that begins:
    KERRY: Well, it’s pretty simple when they say: Are you for a ban on partial birth abortion? Yes or no?…

    Naturally, the Commision does not have any feedback mechanism on their website–like Bush, I guess, they never err.

    It’s not that big of an error in terms of your analysis, but it might add one important noun phrase–“a ban on partial birth abortion”. With the corrected transcript, Bush uses this phrase twice to Kerry’s none. Kerry does mention that he is “against the partial birth abortion”, but Bush is careful to associate the word “ban” with it. If your goal is to look for noun phrase usage that reveals a reliance on boiler-plate phrases, this would be one.

  2. something that bothers me about all the debate concordances is that they list phrases, but Kerry’s phrase “win the peace” never shows up in any of them. Now, in the first debate especially, this is a phrase that Kerry used at least 10 times and Bush never used.

    Is this a sign that the concordances aren’t as accurate as they should be, or am I just crazy?

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  5. My daughter lost her Pell Grant this year and I couldn’t figure out why till last night. Bush took it!!! Who Knew?

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