Biden and Trump Go Cloud to Cloud

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Brazen repetition may not be the most sophisticated rhetorical trope, but in an age of info-snacking and continuous partial attention, it remains the most potent. The idea is simple: Even if you’re half-watching TV, or hate-scrolling Facebook, the core of the message cuts through.

This idea explains why politicians repeat a handful of focus-grouped word and phrases with shameful insistence. It also explains why, in their recent nomination acceptance speeches, Joe Biden repeatedly used optimistic words like “light,” “great,” “time,” “moment” and “hope,” while Donald Trump took the fight to his opponent, saying “Biden” 40 times, “Joe” 27 times. (Although Biden referenced “Obama” twice, he did not say “Donald” or “Trump” – speaking only of the “current president.”)

Other comparisons are equally illuminating. Biden used the words “China” and “Russia” once; Trump mentioned China 16 times, and Russia not at all. Trump said “police” 11 times, Biden not once. Biden warned of “neo-Nazis and Klansmen and white supremacists,” Trump referenced the Second Amendment three times. Biden said “God” five times, Trump eight.

In terms of length and complexity, Joe Biden’s speech was the shortest and simplest . It was 3,196 words long, with a Flesch Reading Ease of 72.3% (where 0 is hardest and 100 easiest), and a Flesch-Kincaid reading grade level of 5.8. At 6,944 words, Donald Trump’s speech was not just twice as long, it was also significantly more complex, with a Flesch Reading Ease of 60%, and a Flesch-Kincaid reading grade level of 8.4. These scores challenge the image of Trump as plain spoken, while reinforcing the perception that his campaign is less traditionally spun. (It’s hard to imagine the line “Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism” getting through a professional focus group.)

Charted below is a word cloud of the two nomination acceptance speeches, using the WordalizerPro algorithm and excluding the words “America,” “American,” “country” and “president.” Word clouds don’t offer the most sophisticated textural analysis (that comes to this column soon), but they do provide a snapshot of a speech’s tone and tenor. And with today’s information overload, the tl;dr of a speech is often what many voters are left with.

Biden and Trump Go Cloud to Cloud

According to Microsoft Word’s analysis.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Ben Schott is a Bloomberg Opinion visual columnist. He created the Schott’s Original Miscellany and Schott’s Almanac series, and writes for newspapers and magazines around the world.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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