The Final Debate:
Obama & McCain Differ Sharply
Obama Doubles Use of Passive Voice Over McCain
Memorable quotes: ‘Joe the Plumber’; ‘I am not President Bush’
Austin, Texas, USA. October 16, 2008. In a linguistic analysis of the final Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, the Global Language Monitor has found that in sharp contrast to prior debates, Obama’s use of the passive voice doubled that of McCain (and was significantly higher than he typically uses). The use of the passive voice is considered significant in political speech because audiences generally respond better to active voice, which they tend to view asmore direct. On a grade-level basis, Obama came in at 9.3 with McCain scoring grade level, while McCain came in at 7.4, a difference of nearly two grade levels. The debate took place at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York.
The statistical breakdown follows.
Using industry-standard tools and techniques, GLM ranks the candidates’ speech on a number of levels from grade-reading level, the use of the passive voice, a reading ease score (the higher, the easiest to understand), the number of words per sentence, the number of characters per word, among others.
“Again, word choice and usage speaks volumes,” said Paul JJ Payack, GLM’s President & Chief Word Analyst. “Obama came in at a higher grade level than his previous efforts, but McCain was somewhat easier to understand. Obama’s significantly higher use of the passive voice combined with his frequent use of the word ‘I’ perhaps indicated an impatience with his opponent last witnessed in his debates with Hillary Clinton.”
Read: L’Histoire’s La Langue des Campagnes
Obama used the personal pronoun, ‘I’ about 158 times in the debate, while McCain used the word some 119 times. Memorable phrases include more than a dozen references to ‘Joe the Plumber,’ one Joe Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio, and John McCain’s ‘I am not President Bush’ retort to Sen. Obama’s attempt to link his policies to those of the current president.
For comparison purposes, here are the results last week’s Town-hall style debate. That debate was notable in the fact that the questions asked by the audience outdistanced both Obama and McCain in the grade-level ranking category. Perhaps, the most memorable phrase from that debate is perhaps ‘’That one!” the term McCain used to refer to Obama. “That One” has already joined GLM’s analysis of the Top Political Buzzwords of the 2008 Campaign.