October 4, 2008

A Word about Debate Impressions

In the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (conducted among 1,505 adults, including 1,258 registered voters, by landline and cell phone) registered voters who watched the first debate between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama were asked what one word best describes their impression of the performances of each of the candidates for president.

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Responses were tallied to show which words were most commonly associated with the candidates. (Figures shown are actual numbers of respondents not percentages.)

The single word most commonly used to describe Obama, was “confident.” Tied for second most frequently mentioned word were “inexperienced” and “intelligent” with “presidential” close behind in third place.

For McCain, far more voters mentioned “experienced” than any other word. The second most frequently mentioned word was “old” followed by “knowledgeable.”

These word choices differ notably from those that have been associated with each of the candidates throughout the year. In Pew Research Center surveys in February, April and early September, when registered voters were asked what one word best describes their impression of the two candidates, the top words consistently associated with Obama and McCain were “inexperienced” and “old” respectively.

To illustrate registered voters’ impressions of the candidate performances in their first debate, responses were entered into Wordle, a website that generates “word clouds” from text provided by the user. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Therefore, the largest word on Obama’s cloud is “confident,” while the largest word on McCain’s is “experienced.” Other descriptive words are sized based on the frequency with which they were mentioned in regard to each of the candidates.

What ONE WORD best describes your impression of…

John McCain

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Barack Obama

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See a Wordle analysis of earlier impressions of the four presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Read the most recent survey report.