This week’s presidential debate is being analyzed across the web on a number of fronts, from a factual analysis of what was said, to the number of tweets it prompted. Instead, we used our Cogito semantic engine to analyze the transcript of the debate through a semantic and linguistic lens.
Cogito extracted the responses by question, breaking sentences down to their granular detail. This analysis allows us to look at the individual language elements to better understand what was said, as well as how the combined effect of word choice, sentence structure and sentence length might be interpreted by the audience.

Here is a sample of what we found:

  • Overall, President Obama spoke less (in number or words) but used longer sentences and a more complex sentence construction than Governor Romney, who used a simple sentence construction. Looking at the use of modal verbs, Romney made a greater use of “can” and “will” while President Obama often emphasized the word “would.” While both used the verb “be” most often, the second verb in frequency denotes a sense of action in the case of Obama (“do”) and more passive action in the case of Romney (“have”).
  • While the main lemmas and words did not vary much between them (small businesses, America, costs, the private sector, economic growth), President Obama spoke more about the topics of health care, student loans and purchasing power. Instead, Romney spoke more about taxes in various forms (tax plan, income tax, tax rate, property tax, economy tax).
  • Using semantic analysis,  the graphics below show the context in which each spoke about the concept of “tax” (the closer the words are to the center of the graphic, the more connected they are to the main idea, in this case, taxes). For Romney, “tax” is immediately connected to “raise” and “pay”; for Obama, “tax” is closely connected to “cut” and “family.”


President Obama and “taxes”

Governor Romney and “taxes”


  • Using sentiment analysis on the top terms used by both candidates, we can glimpse the feelings and emotions potentially transmitted by each of the candidates. This shows Romney with terms associated with more positive emotions, and Obama with a less passionate, more neutral language, which sends a more negative sentiment.

Positive terms used by President Obama


Positive terms used by Governor Romney

Positive terms used by Governor Romney


Stay tuned for our analysis of the second debate on October 16.

Author, Luca Scagliarini.

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