From Pine View Farm

P 0

I realized a little while ago that the three magazines to which I subscribe all have names that start with “P.”

I am not referring to the publications that come as a result of memberships and contributions, such as the AARP rags, the Boat US mags, or the SPLC Intelligence Report. I am referring to publications to which I write a check “payable to the order of.” They are PCMag, Playboy, and Psychology Today.

The most recent issue of Psychology Today (I’ve been waiting a month for this to become available on line–a print subscription allows you to see stuff first) analyzed the candidates’ presentation of themselves.

You can learn a lot about a politician by how they hold their hands—or how much they talk about the future, or their feelings, or themselves. We live in an age of relentless focus-grouping, but a candidate’s unvarnished attitudes and values still peek through in every microexpression and personal pronoun. Content analysis can ferret out aspects of a person’s political agenda and personality based on word and gesture alone. Psychology Today asked a range of experts to scrutinize the 2008 front-runners. They uncovered a great deal, from the messages candidates want voters to know—Giuliani won’t let you forget that he’s a crisis manager, Hillary wants to seem middle-American—to the traits they’d rather hide: a negative worldview, a meandering message, an inability to connect with voters emotionally.


Content analysis, though, has real predictive power. Optimism, for instance, is assessed by examining how people attribute cause and effect in the world, or by tallying their use of positive and negative words. In the 20th century, the most optimistic candidate won 18 out of the first 22 presidential elections, says Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. Recent elections have been trickier, but in 1996, the sunniest candidate by far was Bill Clinton. This time around, says Seligman, it’s Hillary Clinton who emerges as the most optimistic candidate. (Giuliani is the least.) Hillary also exhibits the emotional tone voters tend to like the most. While it’s still far too early to predict which of the candidates will win, it’s high time we pegged their style.

The candidates selected were Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, Rudy Guiliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Fred Thompson was still–actually, is still–discussing things with his agent.

The categories analyzed included

  • Rhetorical style
  • Body language
  • Self-definition
  • Emotional tone
  • Political values
  • Universal values

Just for grins and giggles, I will quote below the analysis of rhetorical style for all six candidates. See if you can match the comments to the candidate. Or you can go read the article and find out the answers for yourself.

Answers tomorrow (Fair use: The material below is adapted from a small portion of the article, “Decision ’08: Reading Between the Lines,” Psychology Today, July-August 2007):

1. (He or she) uses more familiar words than any other candidate. (He or she) roams the political landscape and talks about a lot of different things rather than staying on a very narrow track. (He or she’s) not picking one particular argument, or one particular language pattern. It could be that (he or she’s) seeking, trying to define (him- or her)self, and hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

2. Rhetorically as politically, (he or she) is middle of the road. (He or she’s) in the middle of the group on almost all 40 variables of language style—(he or she) employs a cautious, not very distinctive style. In general, (he or she’s) very low profile, rarely referring to (him- or herself) and avoiding overstatements.

3. (He or she) is off the charts on realism (concrete language), insistence (the tendency to stay on script), and certainty. It’s, “We can do these specific things together, and we can do it with great assurance.” It’s a good style for a (party name), because it’s a language of the people, feel-good kind of style.

4. (He or she) has the most distinctive verbal repertoire—(his or her) language is active, assured, and full of references to (him- or herself). (His or her) message is that (he or she’s) going to personally lead you (high activity) and (he or she’s) going in this direction and no other direction (high certainty). It adds up to a take-charge kind of (guy or gal).

5. Compared to the other candidates, (he or she) rarely mentions (his or her) own life experience during policy discussions. (He or she) has a restrained, formal, less folksy style. There’s not a lot there for people to find out who (he or she) is. (He or she) also has the highest space/time ratio—the extent to which a person refers to geographical matters (Iraq, the region, home) compared to references to time (this morning, the future, the ’50s). For (him or her), this campaign is about Iraq and the United States. This stands to reason since (he or she’s) focusing on issues of the homeland.

6. (His or her) hortatory gusto—(his or her) use of adjectives, religious imagery, patriotic language, and references to voters—embodies old-fashioned, all-American, Fourth of July kind of language. It’s most often used by someone without a platform because it gives them something to talk about.


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