Analysis shows people want more unity from political candidates

What do average citizens really think about the current election? What are the issues they feel passionate about? Analysis of a National Constitution Center civic engagement project shows that some hot-button ideas might be under-publicized in political polls and on the campaign trail.

Address America: Your Six-Word Stump Speech invites people across America to type, text, and tweet their election priorities in just six words. Address America–including its iconic traveling stump–is featured in the Center’s main exhibition and has traveled to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and locations throughout Philadelphia.

Here’s a sampling of six-word speeches :

“Change begins in our local communities.”

“Education is key to our future.”

“Constitutional rights. Once forsaken, never returned.”

“To the world, America is hope.”

More about Address America

Submit Your Own Six-Word Stump Speech
Address America: DNC Day One (VIDEO)
Address America: RNC Day Four (VIDEO)

Beyond the road trips, there are several general trends that emerge from the stump speeches.

By analyzing the more than 26,000 six-word submissions collected by Address America, we can see how visitors and others articulate their priorities and hopes for America leading up to and following the 2012 presidential election.

And in a lot of cases, our results don’t necessarily match what political pollsters list in their own very public surveys, and what the media report from the campaign trail.

In one recent poll, respondents in key battleground states listed “the economy,” “health care,” and “Medicare” as the top three issues in the presidential election; in another poll, “jobs” and “the deficit” were most important.

A major drawback of polling, however, is that pollsters choose the questions, and often the issues, that respondents can select from.

Address America goes beyond that to capture what Americans say is their own vision for the country.

The top 10 words used by visitors to the Center—physically and online—in their speeches were: “peoples’,” “love,” “America,” “rights,” “guns,” “education,” “needs,” “freedom,” “taxes,” and “everyone.” Only three of the top 10 words were issues that commonly show up on political polls.

Table 1
Word Number of Times Mentioned
Peoples’ 1,983
Love 1,602
America 1,270
Rights 1,206
Guns 963
Education 942
Needs 910
Freedom 801
Taxes 777
Everyone 770

When considering this list, two broad categories of words stand out. In one category, there are words expressing a sense of unity, including words like “peoples’,” “America,” “love,” and “everyone.”

Another category contains words pertaining to social issues, including “rights,” “guns,” “education,” and “taxes.”

The first category of words are those that promote cooperation and consensus, something that many Americans claim they want to see in Washington (though the word “cooperation” appears only 17 times in all 26,315 speeches), while the second category consists of words that continue to divide some Americans.

A conclusion we can draw from these speeches is that contrary to recent polls, campaign reporting, and often the candidates’ messages, the words most often used in these speeches are about broader social topics, and not “economy,” “jobs,” or other related words.

The words “economy” and “jobs” appear a combined total of 435 times in all 26,315 speeches.  We can stack up the appearance of these words against the 10 words from the “unity” and “issues” categories and see that, when given the freedom to craft their own message, visitors tend to focus on either consensus-building or hot-button social issues over issues related to the economy.

As each campaign works to craft closing arguments in this campaign season, it would be good for them keep in mind that Americans hold complex political positions that seek broader solutions to problems.

Address America is presented by the Center in collaboration with SMITH Magazine, home of the Six Word Memoir® project, and Comcast Newsmakers. The project was supported by the International Sites of Conscience.

Amy Widestrom is an assistant professor of political science at Arcadia University. Her research interests include political behavior, income inequality, and residential economic segregation.

Want to make your own six-word speech live? Join the Center at the Address America Six-Word Stump Speech Slam on Monday, October 29. Get tickets here.

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