Debate Analytics: Clinton the clear winner, but not perfect

If the GOP debates can be compared to a boxing match, the first Democratic debate was more like a jovial dinner party with old college friends (and maybe one guy who drank too much).

We used our Quantified Communications language analytics platform to analyze the content of the debate and found that, on the whole, the Democratic candidates were projecting a unified front, exhibiting 46 percent more collaborative language than the Republicans displayed in their second debate. The Democrats proved more focused than their Republican counterparts, speaking to the issues 36 percent more often than the Republicans did in their second debate.

While they agreed more than you might expect, this was still a debate. And the real story was Clinton vs. Sanders – what did our language analytics reveal?

Clinton shines – Authentic, friendly and credible, but…

Clinton, more than any other Democratic candidate, has been criticized for her inauthenticity and overly-calculated communication. According to our analysis, Clinton use 15 percent more language meant to establish authenticity than the Democratic debate average. In answering critiques against her flip-flopping, Clinton remarked:

“Well, you know, everybody on this stage has changed a position or two. We’ve been around a cumulative quite some period of time. You know, we know that if you are learning, you’re going to change your position.”

She also appeared friendly and relaxed on stage, laughing more often than any of the other candidates.

Given her extensive political experience, it is perhaps not surprising that Clinton established her credibility throughout the debate. What may be surprising is that she did so 16.5 percent more than any of her fellow candidates.

Clinton came to the dinner party prepared. The embattled front-runner played to her strengths, further establishing her credibility while improving her weaknesses by coming off as more authentic and friendly than she has in the earlier days of the campaign.

But…it won’t always be this easy. This was a friendly audience and Anderson Cooper didn’t push Clinton on the email scandal until an hour in. Even still, she used 26 percent more deceptive language than the next closest candidate. We’ll keep a close eye on her believability as she moves forward in the election.

Sanders’ (bluntly) holds his own

With little tolerance for the off-topic bickering that tries to worm its way into every political debate, Sanders was adept at steering the conversation and keeping his fellow candidates on topic.

Sanders offered blunt responses, leading to 8 percent more negative language than the other candidates displayed. After Clinton asserted that her plan to fix Wall Street was tougher to execute than her opponent’s, Anderson Cooper said to Sanders “Secretary Clinton just said that her policy was tougher than yours,” to which Sanders responded “Well, that’s not true.” His to-the-point responses were laser focused on the numbers and he used 31 percent more language surrounding the issues than other Democrats during the debate.

And from the three underdogs:

  1. O’Malley matters.
    O’Malley came prepared to share his plan, using 15 percent more quantitative material than his opponents to support his key points. In an exchange with moderator Anderson Cooper, O’Malley said:

    “Anderson, look, this is — the big banks — I mean, once we repealed Glass-Steagall back in the late 1999s, the big banks, the six of them, went from controlling, what, the equivalent of 15 percent of our GDP to now 65 percent of our GDP.”

    He also worked to position himself an assertive contender, as he interrupted more than any other candidate.

  2. Chafee struggled.While Chafee’s language had 13 percent more clarity than his opponents, he struggled with his presence and perhaps his only key moment was the following exchange with Anderson Cooper:

    Cooper: Governor Chafee, you have attacked Secretary Clinton for being too close to Wall Street banks. In 1999 you voted for the very bill that made banks bigger.

    Chafee: The Glass-Steagall was my very first vote, I’d just arrived, my dad had died in office, I was appointed to the office, it was my very first vote.

    Cooper: Are you saying you didn’t know what you were voting for?

    Chafee: I’d just arrived at the Senate. I think we’d get some takeovers, and that was one. It was my very first vote, and it was 92-5. It was the…

    Cooper: Well, with all due respect, Governor…

    Chafee: But let me just say…

    Cooper: … what does that say about you that you’re casting a vote for something you weren’t really sure about?

    Chafee: I think you’re being a little rough. I’d just arrived at the United States Senate. I’d been mayor of my city. My dad had died. I’d been appointed by the governor. It was the first vote and it was 90-5, because it was a conference report.

  3. Webb struggled, too, and used a technical tone.
    While Webb’s discontent with the “unfair” time limits might be what people remember most from his performance (“I’ve been trying to get in this conversation for about 10 minutes… I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes…. Bernie, say my name so I can get into this…..”), our language analysis shows that he used a more technical tone when discussing the issues. Webb was clearly focused on his military background and displayed 19.4 percent less optimistic language than his opponents.

So did the Democrats learn something from the GOP inner-party fighting?

No one was shocked that the candidates in this week’s debate showed their support for the Obama administration. What was surprising, however, was how much they agreed with one another.

Sanders: “Let me say – let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the Secretary is right…”

In addition, the Democratic candidates focused, on average, 5 percent of their remarks towards their opponents (in contrast, the candidates in the second Republican debate focused an average of 9 percent of their remarks towards their opponents).

It will be interesting to see if the candidates invited to the next dinner party continue to use their table manners, or if the heightened stakes will turn the night into a food fight.