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TEXAS OBSERVER POLL Choice Words How We Talk When We Talk About Politics By JAMES W. PENNEBAKER The Big Picture: Obama supporters tended to be cognitively abstract and complex, and upbeat. Clinton supporters were engaged and personally involved with concrete political issues. They were living in the here-and-now and were positive in their thinking. McCain supporters tended to be emotionally distant. Most striking was their negative mood and dearth of positive emotions. This grouchy orientation may reflect a risk-averse approach to the world, as opposed to an opportunity-oriented way of thinking. IThe ways people use words can say a lot about them. Particularly revealing are the most commonyet often invisiblewords, called “function” or “junk” words. Function words include and a few others. Though there are fewer than 200 common function words, they account for over half of the words we use every day. Recent studies indicate that these words are closely tied to our social and psychological states. In the recent Observer poll of 2,500 Democratic primary voters in Texas, we asked participants two open-ended questions about their preferences. The first was: “In a couple of sentences, could you tell me what , you think about the presidential campaign so far?” The second: “Could you describe the Texas issues that are most important to you?” By analyzing the words people used to answer the questions, we were able to see how supporters of the different candidates are psychologically different. We also see the similiarities between the rhetoric of the campaigns and the language of their supporters. While each candidate attracts a large and diverse group of followers, some general patterns emerged from our analysis. Personal language. Certain words tell us whether a person is speaking in an informal, personal manner. For example, we tend to use shorter and simpler words when talking with friends than when talking with our boss in a meeting. Clinton supporters tended to use the shortest words, whereas McCain’s and Obama’s followers used bigger ones. Perhaps the most visible marker of informal language is the use of first-person singular pronounswords such as I, me, my. Clinton supporters used I-words at much higher rates than Obama supporters, with McCain’s in the middle. Thinking styles: concrete versus abstract. When people talk about concrete objects or concerns, they tend to use downa person who responds to voter issues by saying “the gasoline prices” is thinking slightly differently from someone who says “gasoline prices” The use of “the” makes the topic more real and 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 30, 2008