In the recent Pack Poll (Fall 2012), both faculty and student respondents were asked to provide the first word that came to mind when they thought of presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, respectively. We used these answers and created “word clouds” to represent the overall sentiments of the faculty and student body. The more frequently reported words appear larger and are sized appropriately to the frequency of the word. Conversely, words less frequently reported appear smaller.
For Mitt Romney, a total of 898 student responses comprised the word cloud, in which the biggest words included, “Mormon,” “rich,” “Republican,” and “businessman.” The religious label “Mormon” might be correlated with more negative attitudes, as some political observers claim, but we have not yet examined this relationship close enough to judge.
Other prominent words such as, “liar,” “idiot,” and “evil” also suggest the prominence of negative connotations among students. Overall, however, the group of words in the cloud suggests mixed emotions, rather than unanimously negative or positive sentiments. The lack of homogeny may perhaps be attributed to the deep political division of the student body, in which 42% of student respondents in the Fall 2012 survey said they would vote for Obama while 44% would vote for Romney.
The word cloud for Barack Obama contained the answers of 894 students. Like Romney’s word cloud, bigger, more frequently reported nonpartisan words like, “Democrat,” “President,” and “healthcare” constituted the bulk of the cloud, alongside both positively and negatively connotative words like “progress,” “terrible”, “failure,” and “hope”. Also prominent was the word, “black”, whose meaning we will explore in greater detail in the near future.
Whereas students’ word responses were by and large mixed in sentiment for both candidates, faculty responses were more consistent. The majority of responses from the faculty clearly indicate their greater disapproval of Romney and approval of the President. Although positively connotative words including, “successful,” and “good” litter the faculty-Romney word cloud here and there, words associated with distaste and negative sentiment were the principal components. Just as Romney’s word cloud depicts the predominant feelings of unenthusiastic support from the faculty, frequent words such as, “competent,” “intelligent,” “integrity,” and “thoughtful” were said of Obama and were the chief components of the faculty-Obama word cloud. However, cloud. Negatively connotative words about Obama are scarce and littered throughout.
What do the clouds mean?
Are the word clouds simply a convenient method for representing respondents’ views about the candidates already captured by their voting intentions? Or, do they add insight in to those choices? We think the clouds do both of these things, and possible one more: add to our understanding of how character matters to vote choice.
It is not an accident that the words most commonly offered represent both the campaigns attempts to define their own candidate (positively) and the other one (negatively). Take, for example, the word “socialist” in the word clouds for Obama. Both students and the faculty used this word, which is a prominent Republican lament meant to express dissatisfaction with perceived excess of government intervention in the economy. Or, conversely, the words “rich” and “liar” that reflect Democrat’s’ complaints that Romney is out of touch and will say anything to win. We think, but cannot prove, that respondents who say these things and aren’t hardened partisans have been “successfully” persuaded to view the opposing candidate in a way that makes them simply unacceptable. That is how the election might be won or lost, depending on your perspective.