This comment is also posted on my class blog, Political Campaign Communication as part of this week’s discussion.
The parties’ conventions in Denver and St. Paul seem to be ages away. Since then, Palin frenzy has overtaken the agenda. But it can be good to look at the tag clouds from the conventions to be reminded what messages have driven each candidate – at least before and during the conventions.
My overall conclusion is that Obama tried to be more substantive than the public has (rightly or wrongly) perceived. And McCain tried to be more personal than usual.
According to the tag clouds in Washington Post (note that e.g. this one from Wordle is a bit different), Obama used promise, McCain, and change most frequently. McCain used fight, government, and life.
Obama surprised me by letting McCain take up so much space in his speech. As far as I recall, Obama was a bit tougher on McCain than he had been before (this will probably change now). But you should not talk about an elephant if you don’t want people to think about it! That was a least the point George Lakoff taught the Democratic Party in his book “Don’t Talk About An Elephant” a few years ago. Palin and McCain did a better job in this matter. McCain did mention Obama a few times, but Palin did not at all. (But everybody knew who she was referring to when she talked about community organizing).
Surprisingly, hope was not among Obama’s favorite words in his speech as it had been throughout the primaries. Is he changing his message here and creating a contract with the American people based on his promises? What does he promise? According to the tag cloud government, Washington, tax, and, the economy are important issues for him.
Erika makes an interesting point about the candidates and fight. Fight is one of McCain’s favorite words which has also been a part of Obama’s general message (fighting for the underprivileged). Fight is part of McCain’s attempt to position himself as a maverick changing Washington. To underline this image McCain used change, Washington, and government just like Obama did. Furthermore, the word life stands out in McCain’s speech. He did talk a lot about himself, his serve, and family. On this occasion, Obama’s family and personal story was played down compared to his speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004.
Obama and McCain have both been the bipartisan candidates challenging the divided political climate in Washington. Bipartisan was not mentioned in any of the speeches. And it was not reflected in the VP nominations or speeches either. Historically, the VPs are playing the bad cop in presidential elections. Biden did mention John and McCain a lot of times, and the words Bush and wrong could indicate an attack. Palin’s attack is not so easy to see in the tag cloud. She talked mostly about America, country, McCain, and people. These might not be exclusive Republican, and maybe we do see an attempt here to appeal to the base, undecided and the other side (e.g. Hillary voters).