Political Word Cloud
Political speeches University Communications

Presidential candidates and political bloggers typically have a lot to say, but the subtext to their messages isn’t always clear.

With help from metaViz, a new Web site developed at UC Irvine, implied meaning becomes more explicit. Doctoral student Eric Baumer, undergraduate researcher Jordan Sinclair and informatics professor Bill Tomlinson created a tool that analyzes metaphors in political speeches by John McCain and Barack Obama and in popular blogs. The tool connects language used in political texts to categories of Wikipedia entries. Its goal, Baumer says, is to “foster critical thinking to encourage people to look not only at what is being said by the words themselves, but also context behind the words.”

Here are three examples of different types of connections metaViz uncovered in McCain and Obama speeches, along with Baumer’s analysis of what they tell us.

McCain: America is like the universe.
Obama: America is like a program.
Sample connections: McCain has said he always “believed in … America” like some scientists believe in a static universe. Obama has said we should “invest in America” like we might “invest in social programs,” and that “America grows” as a research program might grow.
Baumer’s analysis: “The key difference is whether America is framed as static or as developing, changing and growing. The universe exists; while some scientists might argue it is expanding or contracting, those changes are not part of our daily experience. The universe is just there for us to believe in. In contrast, scientific programs and research change, grow, develop and succeed. This could illustrate a difference between the two candidates in how they discuss America – whether it is an unchanging idea to believe in or something that we expect to constantly change.”

McCain: No significant reference to Obama
Obama: McCain is like a (sports) player.
Sample connection: Obama said the oil companies have “placed their bet on Senator McCain, and if he wins, they will continue to cash in while our families and our economy suffer and our future is put in jeopardy.”
Baumer’s analysis: “This is interesting for two reasons. First, there tend to be lots of metaphors for McCain in Obama’s speeches, indicating Obama mentions McCain by name quite frequently. And, there don’t tend to be metaphors for Obama in McCain’s speeches, meaning McCain typically doesn’t mention Obama by name.”

Both Obama and McCain: Jobs are like energy.
Sample connections: Jobs and energy are both created; they can both be lost or found.
Baumer’s analysis: “This is particularly fitting for America. In our capitalist society and economy, jobs and people employed in those jobs really are the driving force behind the economy. They provide the energy necessary to run that system.”

A helpful tutorial on how to use metaViz can be found on the Web site.