Pronouns Make the Difference in Kentucky Senate Race

Us-You

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The team at Relative Insight has always been fascinated with politics around the world and this month we’ve all been following the American midterm elections. One race we found particularly interesting took place in Kentucky. With the polls now closed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is projected to beat his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. The race was neck-and-neck for the majority of the race, with neither candidate having a clear lead. Given the importance of language in showcasing the candidates’ stances, we were curious to see the differences in language used across four main communication platforms: Facebook, Twitter, campaign websites and candidates’ news pages. After analysing 306,475 words to determine semantic topics of conversation, grammar, and linguistic approach, our team was able to discern the candidates’ key policies, but more importantly, paint a clear picture of each candidate’s language style and the differences in interactions with their communities.

Differences in Policies

For example, McConnell, whose key policy centered on the environment, and in particular, coal, placed a greater emphasis on engagement and interaction with his community with more calls to action than his opponent. Grimes, on the other hand, who focused on education and employment, placed a greater emphasis on what can be done for others, such as specific friends and family, attempting to create a more caring and holistic image.

Impact of Pronoun Usage

Overall, Grimes’ language was more positive and inclusive than McConnell’s, with more positive adjectives and numerical language used. She also focused on what Kentuckians’ deserve and tended to speak collectively as “We” and Us.” McConnell placed a greater focus on discrediting his opposition and tended to use more general political terms. He reminded his community of “our right”, but instead of collectively referring to the group, he used “you” and “I” more than Grimes. While Grimes is holding herself more responsible for achieving certain policies and promises on behalf of the electorate, McConnell’s attempts to empower the electorate by suggesting the power lies with them and electing him will enable them to achieve results. This is particularly important given the unrest voters were feeling heading into this election, and the election results showcase that voters were looking for this empowerment.

McConnell's pronoun usage Grimes' pronoun usage

Candidates’ Use of Pronouns (above)

When it came to disseminating information, Grimes tended to use the same themes and ideas across the platforms we analysed. McConnell tailored his outbound communication depending on the platform he was using; Facebook to generate interaction; news page centered on energy policy; website for more general information on politics; and Twitter for sharing information and encouraging engagement.

While both parties executed effective communication strategies across multiple platforms, ultimately McConnell’s interaction and engagement with his community empowered his supporters this past Election Day to re-elect McConnell for the Kentucky Senate.

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Rich Wilson CMO at Relative Insight

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