Lexi-Conflict: Harris vs Pence


Another fun debate! Since I already had the methodology in place from my evaluation of the Trump v Biden debates, it seemed like a logical step to tackle the vice-presidential debate as well. The same basics apply here: transcript from the The Rev and the text inspector tool from the University of Bedfordshire.

Flies aside, this debate was a little calmer in tone than the debacle in Cleveland and this was probably reflected in a shorter speaking time for the moderator, Susan Page. Mike Pence and Kamala Harris split the active speaking time fairly evenly but, as with the presidential debate, this does not account for interruptions or cross-talk.

Sentence count for both VP candidates was less than half that of the top of the ticket, reflecting a more leisurely pace of discussion with longer sentences and bigger words (more types or tokens). Mike Pence’s sentence length and average syllables per sentence was higher that of both Senator Harris and Susan Page. The vice-president’s sentence metrics were also twice that of his boss. Sen. Harris’ utterances fell between Pence and the moderator in length but, on average, she still had longer statements than anyone at the presidential debate.

The Flesch Reading ease scores for the vice-presidential debate reflect everyone’s use of a larger vocabulary, with scores coming in at the eighth-, ninth-, or tenth-grade level. Pence used the most advanced language, with his Gunning Fog Index score nearing college level. For reference, Trump was speaking at a sixth-grade level in his debate with Biden.

In a comparison of unique words used by each candidate (and not used by the other candidate), the personalization of communication we saw with Trump comes through again with Pence, where the top two unique words are the result of formal address directed at his opponent (e.g. “Senator Harris”). Other top Pence words include references to policies he thinks will trigger voters (e.g. the “Green” “New” Deal) and hints at extending the policies of the Trump administration (e.g. “continue”).

Harris’ top words include informal phrases she uses to frame a topic (e.g. “let’s”, “means”, and on the other “hand”) and references to threats to policies favored by her constituents (e.g. get “rid” of the Affordable Care Act). She was also forced to contend with Pence’s frequent interruptions (e.g. “I’m speaking“).

Looking at the candidate’s usage of common pronouns, we see some interesting differences:

Sen. Harris used several pronouns nearly twice often as Pence did, many in reference to either Biden or Trump (e.g. “he” and “him”) or recent history (e.g. “what” happened or “which” has led to X). Pence didn’t use any unique pronouns, which I thought was a little odd. The “she/her” balance was more even than in the presidential debate, again mostly revolving around the evaluation of Judge Amy Comey Barrett.

For filler words:

Pence used a lot more unique crutch words than Harris, particularly a few classic teenybopper terms like “really”, “actually”, and “literally.” This suggests that Harris has learned to avoid the use of these words better than Pence. Her one filler vice appears to the word “so” (as in “So, let’s set the record straight”), which she uses a framing device.

Other interesting word usage of note:

  • Pence favors the use of the term “coronavirus” over “COVID-19” while Harris uses “COVID” and “COVID-19.”
  • Senator Harris used the word “vote” ten times as often as Pence. For the record, Biden used it seven times as often as Trump in their debate. It’s almost as if the Democratic candidates are trying to get us to exercise our constitutional rights in the upcoming election!

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Short-Circuiting of the American Mind (Part 3: The OCDN Doom Loop)

“Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening” – Donald Trump If we accept the premise that American society has intentionally damaged its ability to make decisions, we can return to John Boyd’s OODA framework to see exactly how various political, cultural, and technological forces …

Lexi-Conflict: Trump vs Biden

The political circus surrounding the U.S. election has already moved on to something more interesting but I wanted to take a look at last week’s presidential debates from a lexicological standpoint. Full disclosure: I didn’t actually watch the entire debate in real time because I value my sanity. However, I …

The Short-Circuiting of the American Mind (Part 2: Generation Q)

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” – Thomas Jefferson In many ways, the current circumstances in the U.S. mirror those of the old Soviet Union. Political leadership is stale and ineffective, public trust …