One thing Web sites clearly promote and project is an image of the candidate that they (and their strategists) think will work best. So what are those images? What buzz words are popular this year—and which ones define which parties?
To find out, we combed through the text of the most universal section of the sites—the candidate biographies. Some words were clear favorites, some were avoided altogether and some seemed determined by party-line preferences.
The Most Frequent Words
Looking across all the candidate biographies, the two most dominant themes were the nation and the family. The words ‘U.S.’, ‘America’ and ‘American’ appeared 171 different times in the 19 biographical sketches. These patriotic terms are even more popular among Democratic candidates.
The words “children” and “family” are the next most popular. They appear 124 times in the 19 biographies (and one of the two terms appears in all 19 profiles).
Together, these mom and apple pie terms outpace Iraq, health care, or anything else.
For most candidates, mentions of children occur when they are talking about their own. But it is also often used as a way to talk about their work or allude to an issue. Mitt Romney, for example, talks of his five sons and ten grandchildren and then also of how his wife, Ann, is “dedicated to improving the welfare of children, both locally and internationally.” John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth are not just parents of four children, but “passionate advocates for children and families.”
Even the word ‘faith,’ which often carries a broader connotation of loyalty and trust, appears only eight times. And, the candidate who uses it most, Mitt Romney, is mostly referring to his wife’s active involvement in “faith based organizations” and being a member of the “Faith and Action committee” rather than his own Mormon practices.
If the Web sites are any hint, in other words, this may be the campaign in which candidates are trying, at least so far in the process, to move beyond ideology or traditional party identifiers.
Beyond these broad tendencies, there are clear party-line differences in the buzz words of campaign 2008. The concepts of “children” and “family” dominate the Democratic profiles, while those of the Republicans emphasize “taxes.”
“Next came Yale Law School, where Hillary focused on questions about how the law affected children and began her decades of work as an advocate for children and families. As a law student, Hillary represented foster children and parents in family court and worked on some of the earliest studies creating legal standards for identifying and protecting abused children. Following graduation, she became a staff attorney for the Children Defense Fund.”
Inside the Republican biographies, quite a different picture emerges.
(no. of times used)
(no. of times used)
They do, however, also focus on patriotism. It comes up when talking of U.S. defense jobs or being a United States senator or even as James Gilmore puts it, being “the answer to the question… “Is there a strong, steady, electable, conservative Republican candidate for President of the United States?”
Republican biographies are the only ones that explicitly mention ‘traditional.’ They also use ‘values’ much more than Democrats. For example, James Gilmore talks of family values or traditional values four times in his biography alone. Mike Huckabee puts forth his vision of “American values and priorities” while Ron Paul talks of being an “unwavering advocate of pro-life and pro-family values.”
The second-most frequently word on GOP sites was governor. Much like the use of senator among the Democrats, it reflects the ranks of the candidates—Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney were all governors of Virginia, Arkansas and Massachusetts respectively. Their constant references to themselves using the prefix or their deeds as governor add up to a total of 29 mentions.
Source: PEJ Analysis, May 8 2007
Unlike the Democrats (reference to their party affiliation ranks 14th place) the Republicans draw attention to their party label repeatedly. Appearing 26 times in the 11 biographies, “Republican” is their third most frequently used word.
Sam Brownback proudly cites an Economist article that calls him a “Wilberforce Republican,” while Tom Tancredo calls himself a “solid pro-life, pro-gun, small government Republican.” James Gilmore is less specific, but declares that he has “exactly the credentials that most Republicans are looking for in their nominee for President”. Rudy Giuliani boasts of how he was the “first Republican elected Mayor of the City of New York… in which Democrats outnumbered Republicans five to one.” The party-term is definitely favored over the ideological descriptive, ‘conservative’ which appears just 8 times, and only among long shot Republican candidates Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo.
If children and family is the domestic issue Democrats refer to in their biographies, for Republicans it is taxes. GOP candidates invoke it repeatedly – making it their fourth most frequently used word – and in most cases, with promises to reduce them. Jim Gilmore, who calls tax cuts a traditional Republican principle, mentions it repeatedly, with some justification—he “signed into legislation five different tax cuts including a 70 percent cut of the infamous car tax by $1.1 billion, the largest tax cut in Virginia history.” Mike Huckabee, a self confessed fiscal conservative, also talks at length about his proposed “Property Taxpayers' Bill of Rights” and how he “cut taxes and fees over 90 during his ten and a half years as Governor.”
Source: PEJ Analysis, May 8 2007
Beyond looking at the most frequent words of each candidate, we tried to see what, if any, was the thread among the top-tier candidates. It seems they’re more alike than different.
John McCain and Hillary Clinton are similar in their emphasis on children and the nation, while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are noteworthy in their use of the word community—both have it as the third most frequently used word in their profiles. Four of the six have the state (or city) they’ve worked in as a top word, stressing their local experience as a platform for their national aspirations.
Top Words: Top-Tier Candidates
|Hillary Clinton (D)||Children||Family||America|
|John Edwards (D)||Elizabeth||North Carolina||Senator|
|Rudy Giuliani (R)||Mayor||New York||New York City|
|John McCain (R)||Cindy||U.S.||Children|
|Barack Obama (D)||Michelle||Chicago||Community|
|Mitt Romney (R)||Governor||Massachusettes||Community|
Three of them have their spouses’ names as a top word. The doting husbands are McCain (15 mentions of Cindy), Edwards (12 mentions of Elizabeth) and Obama (11 mentions of Michelle). Both Giuliani and Romney have a separate section on their wives even though they may not take their name as much, but Hillary Clinton mentions her husband just twice, buried within sentences, even despite a whole “First Lady” sub-section in her biography.
|Candidate||Top Word||Second Word
| Fourth Word
|Edwards (D)||Elizabeth||North Carolina||Senator||Country||Law School|
|Giuliani (R)||Mayor||New York||New York City||Attorney||Award|
|Hunter (R)||Border||Committee||San Diego||America||Community|
Source: PEJ Analysis, May 8, 2007
3. Only 4 candidates have no mention of the term ‘children’. Barack Obama, the only Democrat not to use the term, refers to his family sporadically but confines mentions of his children to a sentence about his two daughters. Of the three Republicans don’t use the word children—Gilmore, Giuliani and Tancredo—Gilmore and Tancredo have a brief line on their families, but no more than that.
Cite this publication: Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project Staff. “Election 2008.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (July 12, 2007) http://www.journalism.org/2007/07/12/election-2008/, accessed on July 23, 2014.