Most have decided that the first debate was a loss for Obama. Personally, I found the whole format rather unwatchable. But with the help of a little data analysis (and one pretty infographic), there’s a lot we can learn about the two candidates’ disparate debate strategies—and maybe even why things worked out so much better for Romney.
In this infographic by Boxplot studios, we see three simple but revealing data points: total words spoken, words per statement, and use of the words "I" and "we."
First off, we see that Romney simply said more words—just 500 more, you may say—but that’s still about twice the length of the Gettysburg Address. Romney also spread out his words more evenly. In graphic form, Romney’s short red bars looks like he’s bobbing and weaving, sticking and moving, while Obama swings the occasional long blue roundhouse like a lumbering old heavyweight. Romney simply got in far more statements than Obama, and found ways to interject on more points while speaking for shorter amounts of time. Many critics of the President’s performance thought his contemplative silences made him appear detached, but as the numbers show, no one could make such a claim about Romney.
The third big piece of data here, though, is tougher to parse. Romney said the word "I" far more than Obama, who instead preferred the word "we." In fact, Obama used the word "we" about twice as much as "I."
Was one approach advantageous? It’s tough to say. But it certainly reveals a bit more about each candidate’s strategy. Romney went into the debate selling himself, advertising things he would do as president in the first-person. Obama preferred "we," perhaps in an effort to entrench himself and his policies with the American public. This was emphasized when the President would aim his gaze right at the camera, speaking to Americans as a fellow American, just as he might in a YouTube address.
Now, what will be interesting is how this graphic looks after the next debate. If I was a betting man, I’d place all my chips on Obama interjecting every bit as much as the next moderator will allow. We’ll see a lot more short answers from Obama, and hopefully, the debate will actually be more of a debate, and less of a series of speeches, as a result.