Update 3 on Political Discourse Analysis

It’s finally done! After a summer of trial and error, I have produced my report on power and solidarity in the speech of American senators.

So what did I find?

I analyzed three things when writing this paper.

First, pronoun usage. It was found that the party in power used many more first person pronouns. They wanted to talk about themselves more, and take credit for what was happening in government at the time. The party in power also talked more about their own party, especially when it came to the Democrats. Republicans tended to talk more about the government as a whole, to diffuse the blame for the poor state of healthcare. Either way, talking about yourself more is a power move. It elevates the speaker to a level above the listener in terms of importance. This was very closely tied to whether the party was in power at the time.

On the other hand, the use of second person was not tied as closely to power status. Republicans used more second person than Democrats did. Second person was defined in several ways: it could mean the impersonal you, or the personal you addressed to either one or many people. The impersonal you makes speech more casual, as it’s a very colloquial way of speaking. The personal you often functions to bring in the audience to the conversation, or a fellow senator. This makes the discourse less like a speech, and more like a conversation. Use of second person is a solidarity move. It makes the speaker’s discourse more casual, and brings listeners to more of an equal footing. Republicans used slightly more second person when they were out of power, but Democrats remained steady at a low rate of use. This corresponds to Republicans’ higher overall use of solidarity tactics.

 

Secondly, power and solidarity usage. I defined expressions of power and solidarity by observing what had been studied in past papers, and using some of my own creative reasoning to create categories of power and solidarity. Some power categories included citation of evidence, citation of authority, and the interruption of others. Some solidarity categories included the use of humor, casual language, uncertain statements, and idioms. The parties in power expressed power rhetoric much more frequently than when they were out of power. Democrats relied more on citing authorities to back them up, and Republicans relied more on citing numerical evidence to support their claims. This is in line with their central messages as parties : human centered vs fiscally centered.

Like with pronoun usage, solidarity was not as clearly defined according to power status. The party out of power did use more solidarity, but when Republicans were in power, they continued to use a high amount of solidarity, while Democrats in power used very little solidarity. One possible explanation for this is that Republicans were still only recently elected in 2017, and their discourse was still transitioning from that of a party out of power to that of one in power. They were so used to being anti-government and expressing solidarity messages that the transition to being the government may have taken a while to be reflected in their speech. Additionally, when expressing solidarity, Republicans frequently used anti-government and pro-state rhetoric, while Democrats rarely did this. They also used more uncertain statements – Democrats were very confident!

Finally, the use of passive voice. Passive voice reduces the agency of the speaker. It implies that things happen to the speaker, rather than the speaker causing something to happen. It was found that the party out of power used passive voice much more frequently. They tried to distance themselves from the actions taken by the federal government. Republicans especially said that money “had been spent” rather than “we spent money.” This is a logical conclusion, that the out of power party would reduce their agency, but I was glad to see it proven numerically.

 

Overall, I was pleased that this paper proved my hypothesis that powerful parties would use more power and minority parties would use more solidarity, but I was even more pleased that it offered a few surprises that I wasn’t expecting, like how exactly each party expresses these concepts. I was also surprised to see the Republicans’ unusual behavior in 2017 – they increased their pronoun use, and expressions of power and solidarity. The 2017 Republicans were really a different breed.

However, my main concern about the paper is subjectivity. The way I coded pronouns and passive voice was pretty objective, but the way I coded power and solidarity was totally up to me. My past biases may have influenced me. I would love to see the results of another person doing the same study. I hope that it still offers some interesting information for some people.

 

I would love to find out more about this topic, and continue doing my own research!

Comments

  1. Hi Irene,
    Your paper sounds very interesting and I would like to read it. I’m glad that your research confirmed your suspicions. That’s always a good thing to have confirmed. So I have a few questions:
    – Do you think speeches from the smaller parties, like the Tea Party or Democratic Socialists would have the same speech patterns?
    -What about political parties in foreign countries?
    – Can you tell apart democrats and republicans just by looking at their speeches now?

  2. kllauritzen says:

    Hi! This is so interesting and a topic that I had never even considered thinking about. It’s such a unique and creative way to look at differences in the political parties and your results make a lot of sense. I especially liked the sections regarding pronoun usage, and was surprised at how much of a difference there was based on which party is in power. Also, the idea of “human centered vs fiscally centered” was very interesting and it seems like your research was objective and original. I would definitely like to read more on this topic sometime! Good work!

  3. This is fascinating! I’ve never thought about the role of rhetoric in politics, but the way in which you describe it illustrates its importance. I wonder what these trends would look like over time. As you mentioned, recent elections have significantly changed the political climate and polarization in America–I wonder how party-based rhetoric has shifted with regards to power dynamics.

    I’m also interested in what you mean by the subjectivity of your coding. What specific measures did you use to code the speech?

    I look forward to hearing more about this project! Great work!

  4. Hi!
    This is a really interesting project! In the past I researched how length, speed, and key word usage in political speeches contributed to their popularity/effectiveness so it’s fascinating to see how each political party actually changes their way of speaking dependent upon if they’re in power or not.
    I was wondering if you noticed a difference on the spectrum within a party. I’m not sure if that was something you were looking into but it could be interesting to see if extremely Conservative or extremely Liberal politicians used different language than moderates in their respective parties.
    Also, I know that you were examining what might cause these differences in speech, but I was wondering if you looked into the effect that the use of pronouns and such had on the general population – i.e. do people like it more when someone talks in first person?
    This was such an interesting and though provoking research topic! Nice work!

  5. cmaufderheide says:

    Reading through your posts about this project was a delight! It’s fascinating that politicians’ language in political discourse changes based on power to such a degree that those changes can actually be recorded as you’ve done. While reading your work, I wondered what your take would be on how conscious this shift might be on the part of the senators, etc, involved. Do you think politicians make strategic choices about their tone, word choice, etc down to this minute level, or do they naturally fall into/are forced in a sense by their political position (eg. having to defend government actions versus criticizing dominant party) into these power/solidarity patterns? Especially interesting, though, are the patterns of each party’s discourse that remained constant to an extent despite their position in power – and that the parties’ political platforms are reflected in their speech!

  6. Hi Irene,

    Awesome research! I’m impressed with your results and enjoyed the read.

    Referencing “Categories for instances of solidarity included humor, statements which indicated uncertainty, a reference to one’s own state, a distancing from the federal government, use of idioms, the inclusion of the speaker with the common american people, and casual language and pop culture.” from your second blog post, I have a question: did you go through all 20,000+ words and look for instances of these events, or did you find a way to automate it? (e.g. sentiment analysis algorithm)? If so, what languages/packages did you use?

    Again, I’m impressed with what you’ve done with the project. I wonder if the advent of new sentiment analysis algorithms and more precise automated speech-to-text bots could pave the way for even larger analyses like these.

    -Joseph

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