Press Release: Quantifying the Second Presidential Debate

Press Release

Quantifying the Second Presidential Debate: New Science of Quantified Communications Objectively Compares Candidate’s Performances

AUSTIN, October 18, 2012 – Did Barack Obama really improve in the second debate? Did Mitt Romney continue to communicate effectively at this critical stage? According to new data just released by personal communications analytics company Quantified Communications, President Obama made a variety of key changes in his communication effectiveness, while Mitt Romney strongly maintained his communications strategy from the first debate.

“In our quantitative analysis of the second debate, we used the first debate as a benchmark,” says Noah Zandan, president of Quantified Communications. In the first debate, Romney clearly and efficiently conveyed a well-prepared argument directly to his audience. He spoke faster than President Obama; he said more than the President in less time; he conveyed his message at a more audience-friendly grade level; he spoke at a lower pitch and with more vocal variety; and he focused his content on the audience instead of his opponent.

For the second debate, Governor Romney did not make significant adjustments, nor did he need to. “We are impressed with Romney’s consistent ability to connect with his audience,” said Zandan. President Obama’s communication improvement was much needed and substantial. He spoke at a more audience-friendly grade level and focused his content, although his pace, similar to the last debate, remained professorial.

Diving into the data, here is where President Obama Improved:

  • In the first debate, the President spoke at an academic/scientific comprehension level. He delivered his message at a Flesch-Kinkaid grade level of 9.4, which is appropriate for an academic or scientific text. For the second debate, Obama engaged more with his audience and spoke at a magazine or newspaper-like grade level of 7.2.
  • In the first debate, Obama’s message was aimed at his opponent instead of his audience: Communications research demonstrates that word repetition contributes to audience recall. The words most used by President Obama in the first debate – “Governor” (47 mentions) and “Romney” (34 mentions) – display his contentious tone, but in the second debate, Obama led with “Make” (72 mentions) followed by “Governor” (62 mentions).

Governor Romney’s performance was consistent with his strong showing in the first debate. He spoke faster than Obama, at a more audience-friendly grade level, at a more authoritative pitch, and with energetic tonal amplitude. The one area where Romney weakened was his concept highlighting, which became more contentious as opposed to audience-focused.

Using the first debate as a benchmark, here are Governor Romney’s notable metrics:

  • He spoke at a faster vocal pace: while President Obama spoke for 3 minutes and 14 seconds longer than Governor Romney, Romney actually said more because he spoke 27 words per minute (198 words per minute) faster than President Obama (171 words per minute). Research demonstrates that adults can listen with full comprehension at up to 300 words per minute.
  • He spoke at lower pitch: Academic research shows that candidates with lower-pitched voices tend to be more successful in obtaining positions of leadership. Quantified Communications measured vocal pitches and found that Governor Romney speaks at an average pitch of 110 Hz, while President Obama spoke at 150 Hz.

As the candidates consider their debate strategy for next week’s final debate, these measures of effectiveness indicate the importance of presentation style in winning over an audience. “While content does play a leading role in persuasive speaking, so does audience engagement. With communications performance scores as similar as these,” said Noah Zandan, “it is critical for the candidates that they focus on speaking directly to the audience and mobilizing their base. Many voters will act, not with the debate content or policies in mind, but rather, based on their perceived relationship to the candidate.”


About Quantified Communications

Quantified Communications is the leading global provider of analytics and expert feedback for evaluating the effectiveness of video-based communications. Through extensive research, innovative technology and advanced statistics, Quantified Communications provides executives, political leaders, professionals and enterprises with scientifically-based evaluation scores and qualitative feedback that allow presenters to objectively assess their communications skills, compare their presentation abilities to their peers, and optimize their potential as professional communicators. The methodology was developed at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. For more information, email or visit