Category Archives: Political Science

Do the presidential candidates have a plan or highlight problems?

Automatically highlighting the central words of the candidates’ debate rhetoric.

As the primary election season continues to other important contests in the U.S., we continue our data-driven analysis of the presidential candidates. Previously, we have looked at the most distinctive words used by voters of each candidate and at the distinctive words of each candidate in debate speeches. This time, we were interested in what are the core concepts in each candidate’s rhetoric. To uncover this, we used a different algorithm that highlights the most ‘central’ words and phrases of each candidate those which appear over and over to bridge the distinct themes of each candidate (see Technical Section for more details).

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Insights to the 2016 Election

The 2016 election has been a strange and surprising one, and the rise of two highly publicized candidates symbolize this unexpectedness: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Few experts would have predicted that a reality TV star and an avowed democratic socialist would inspire strong bases of support in a U.S. presidential election.

The two candidates are not mirror-images in most ways. Donald Trump is currently leading in national polls over his Republican rivals, while Sanders is trailing Clinton. Sanders has been a senator for a decade, while Trump has never held any political office. Trump’s fame and extreme personality make it practically unfair to compare him to any other human being. But both candidates share a narrative of serving as a potential spoiler to their respective party establishments, and pundits are frequently nonplussed by the success of each.

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Moral Foundations in Partisan News Sources

Moral Foundation Theory

Although almost everyone agrees that some things are morally good and some things are morally bad, the specific form of these beliefs can differ throughout the population. What is egregious to one person: harming marginalized communities, banning sugary soft drinks, refusing to go to church, etc.; can be considered completely trivial or even be endorsed by someone else.

The Moral Foundations Theory [1,2,3] was developed to model and explain these differences. Under this theory, there are a finite number of basic, moral values that people can intuitively support, but not necessarily to the same extent across the population. The five moral foundations are:

  1. Care/Harm:
    The valuation of compassion, kindness, and warmth, and the derogation of malice, deliberate injury, and inflicting suffering.
  2. Fairness/Cheating:
    The endorsement of equality, reciprocity, egalitarianism, and universal rights.
  3. Ingroup loyalty/Betrayal:
    Valuing patriotism and special treatment for ones own ingroup.
  4. Authority/Subversion:
    The valuation of extant or traditional hierarchies or social structures and leadership roles.
  5. Purity/Degradation:
    Disapproval of dirtiness, unholiness, and impurity.

Under this theory, a person who strongly endorses the value of ‘Care/Harm’ will be appalled at an action that causes suffering, while someone who endorses ‘Authority’ will support an action that supports the social hierarchy. These responses would be immediate, emotional, and intuitive.

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