The Conventions by the Numbers

Jeff Alworth

You can tell a lot about a someone by what she chooses to say--and not say.  Over the last two weeks, we were treated to a deluge of PR in the form of speeches from the Democrats and Republicans.  These form a careful presentation of each party's priorities and focus--a snapshot of politics in a particular time.  To drill down to specifics, I did a word search of the six major speeches of the Republicans (John McCain, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Joe Lieberman, George Bush, and Fred Thompson) and compared them with the five major Democratic speeches (Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore).  The results create a revealing status report of politics in America.  (full results below the jump).

In a rare case of transparency, McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis declared last week that the "election is not about issues.  This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."  He was right.  The GOP mentioned McCain 108 times, while the Dems mentioned Obama only 69 times.  They also mentioned Sarah Palin 24 times while Dems only mentioned Joe Biden 9 times.  And George Bush?  He was never mentioned by the GOP.  Dems mentioned him 17 times. If party power is measured by reference, Dems have the advantage: they were mentioned by both parties almost twice as often as both parties referenced Republicans.

Both parties mentioned Iraq roughly equally, but the GOP never mentioned the other war; by contrast Dems mentioned Afghanistan 9 times.  Dems focused on health care (24), the economy (19), and jobs (17), while the GOP mainly focused on taxes (33) and to a lesser extent jobs (16); they mentioned the oil drilling as many times as the economy (12).  What didn't get mentioned by either party was equally as instructive: abortion, Social Security, the Supreme Court, and immigration were barely acknowledged. 

On the final night of the Democratic convention, Dems brandished "change" signs, underscoring the major theme by the party.  "Change" was invoked 55 times by Dems--nearly twice as many times as the GOP (30).  Republicans balanced their themes.  In addition to change, they often mentioned "government" (26), "reform" (23), and "God" (20).  For Dems, nothing came close to change.  But they did mention "future" a lot (20), though not as often as the GOP mentioned "history" (22), which seems to capture something essential about the places the parties are in.  And if you want to get a sense of how things have changed, not a single Republican brandished the word "conservative," a word used five times in Bush's 2004 acceptance speech alone. 

As an index of a transformation that's already underway, consider this: Republicans used the words "Bush," "conservative," "abortion," and "Afghanistan" nary a single time.  It's a shocking turnaround for a party dominated by George Bush just four years ago.  In that not-distant past, the GOP had been built by evangelical conservatives devoted to overturning Roe v. Wade and neocons devoted to invading our enemies.  Every Republican was necessarily required to call himself "conservative."  My, how times change.

Length of all speeches: GOP - 15,650 words, Dems - 14,800 words

McCain: GOP 108 / Dem 40
Obama: 26/69
Palin: 24/0
Biden: 4/9
Bush (George) : 0/17
Democrat: 31/28
Republican: 18/17

Tax (taxes, taxpayer): 33/19
Health care 5/24
jobs 16/17
Economy: 12/19
Iraq: 15/16
Afghanistan 0/9
Drill: 12/2
Education 6/10
Social Security 0/3
Supreme Court: 2/2
Abortion: 0/1
Immigration 1/1

Change 30/55
Experience 11/12
Future 8/20
History 22/13
Government: 26/12
Reform: 23/2
POW/Prisoner: 11/0
Hero: 7/4
God: 20/14
Conservative: 0/0
Values 5/9
Faith 9/2

  • (Show?)

    Speaking of words used, Barbara Boxer has a great statement on McCain's use of the word "fight"

  • nadja s (unverified)

    Republicans will use snide labels to frame the debate, and make it about personality and perceived weakness on the part of the Obama/Biden campaign. They'll push emotional buttons, and create backlash in order to keep their shallow topics in the forefront. They will resort to lying, if necessary, and use Fox News people to push the falsehoods. Obama can be as noble as he wants and try to talk about the issues, but the McCain/Palin folks will just hit back with silly innuendo that the media will eat up. I'm afraid that his campaign will falter when the Republican viciousness starts up in earnest next week. People will see Obama not as the great inspirational gentleman that he is, but someone who can't take the heat from the Republicans.

  • Clinton (unverified)

    I wonder how often P.O.W., Vietnam, and 9/11 were mentioned at either convention- or at least how many times they were said at the RNC. Somehow, I don't think this graph is perfectly accurate:

  • RW (unverified)

    Nadja: are you saying that Democrats will not resort to any of the same tactics in use over in RepublicanLand?

  • Gregor (unverified)

    What Sarah Palin brought back to the Republican Party cannot be enumerated. What Sarah Palin brought back to the Reich was SWAGGER ... IN A SKIRT. This is a gift at a time when the Dems wish to illustrate how McCain is the third Bush term. Except for his record, McCain does not appear much like Dubya, but Sarah Palin? She's the spitting image.

    <h2>What differentiates Palin from Dubya? Lipstick!</h2>

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