A Data Analysis of the November Democratic Debate

Can We Learn Anything from Debate Data?

Which Candidate Got the Most Words in?

Political supporters have often accused debate moderators of favoritism. While this can be hard to prove, it is an objective fact that some candidates are favored is terms of speaking time. As with the last debate, Elizabeth Warren got the most time to talk, indicating that she is considered the frontrunner by moderators.

Who “Won” Over the Audience ?

In my opinion, the best way to “win” a debate is to arouse passion among supporters. This passion translates into campaign donations, media exposure, and social proof of popularity among casual viewers. By this definition, the best metric to look at when deciding who “won” a debate is to see which candidate got the most applause.

What were the Candidates Messages?

When it comes to candidate policy positions, there is some measure of objective fact and a great deal of subjective interpretation. After all, no one expects candidates to carry out all of their campaign promises. Since policy positions are speculative, it can be important to notice what words the candidates use when discussing their views. These words will tell you what their real focus is.

Word Cloud for All Democratic Candidates
From left to right: Klobuchar, Harris, Buttigieg

Which Candidate’s Speach Had the Highest Reading Level

As a fun exercise, I thought it would be interesting to measure the Flesch-Kincaid reading level associated with each candidate during the debate. High scores like those of Tulsi Gabbard (12th grade reading level) and Pete Buttigieg (11th grade level), indicate the use of many long words. Low scores like those of Elizabeth Warren (6th grade level) indicate the use of simpler language.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the only true measure of a candidate’s success is in how many votes they get. Nevertheless, before the final stages of the Democratic primary I think that there are still truths to be learned from analyzing candidate speech. By looking at the words candidates use and how they use them, we may be able to predict their successes, explain their failures and gain insights into how they think. At the very least it’s a fun approach that doesn’t rely on the same tired “takes” from the media.

Married engineer in San Francisco. Interested in words, networks, and human abstractions. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

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