In a blog on the site Wordwatchers, the researchers say:
“In the most recent US election, the intuitive and confident candidate did better. But the political landscape in the UK is very different and potentially also the electorate. So, we shall have to wait to see whether the more confident, intuitive May will be victorious or the more analytical, increasingly confident Corbyn will prevail.
“No matter which candidate ends up as Prime Minister, it is interesting to note that he or she will be a departure from other recent PMs. Compared to Blair and Cameron, May and Corbyn are both more analytic, more confident and less authentic than their predecessors.
“When it comes to confidence and authenticity, May and Corbyn are more like Trump and Clinton respectively, than recent British PMs. May and Corbyn are likely to be different types of leaders than their recent predecessors.”
Style, clout, authenticity
Theresa May made the unexpected decision to call a snap election less than two months ago, citing fears that divisions in Westminster could threaten future Brexit negotiations. As the UK begins the process of leaving the EU, polls are showing the election is a two-horse race, with voters expected to choose a PM from one of the two main parties; the Conservatives or Labour.
While May declined a head-to-head encounter, both leaders participated in three Q&A events interacting with the media and regular voters: being grilled by Jeremy Paxman in an election special and facing a live studio audience as part of a Question Time Election Special.
The researchers, which included Professor Kavita Vedhara in the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine and Dr Kayla Jordan at Texas, used an established method of analysing language to draw conclusions about May and Corbyn’s style, clout and authenticity.
To add context, they also compared them to the 2016 general election debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and pre-election interviews by former British PMs Tony Blair and David Cameron.
Professor Vedhara said: “The methodology we are using has been around for more than 20 years and has been shown to be effective in characterising people in the ‘here and now’ but also in predicting future outcomes such as exam performance, health and even immunity, which is the context in which I have used it before.
“My colleagues in the US have been using it recently to analyse the language of famous people, including politicians, most notably Trump and Clinton. I thought it would be interesting to see what we can learn about May and Corbyn and make comparisons with others such as Trump, Obama and Clinton.
“Above all, we hoped this research would bring some objective evidence into politics so that the electorate don't feel so reliant on what can be perceived as a potentially-biased media made worse by fake news.”
Analytical thinking is indicated by the greater use of nouns, articles and prepositions, while low analytical thinking (or narrative, informal thinking) is associated with fewer pronouns, auxiliary verbs and common adverbs.
Between the two candidates, May is less analytical than Corbyn, laying out her ideas in a ‘somewhat simpler fashion’ than her adversary. However, both are more analytical than Blair, Cameron, Clinton and Trump who has stood out in recent American politics as being an exceptionally intuitive, informal thinker both as a candidate and president.
When assessing confidence and clout, past research has shown that those who are confident and have high-status tend to use more we-words (we, our) and social words (friend, ally, group), while using fewer I-words (my, mine), negative words (no, not, never) and swear words.
Similarities to Trump
Despite a recent slide in the polls, May has remained more confident than Corbyn. However, with May’s confidence remaining stable, Corbyn’s has been increasing as we approach election day (70.6 to 75.5). Compared to previous UK prime ministers, both May and Corbyn are more confident in talking about the issues they face. May in particular resembles recent American candidates more than past PMs.
The final dimension looked at was authenticity – when confronted with questions, are the candidates sincere, straightforward or evasive and impersonal? Authentic individuals tend to use more I-words, present-tense verbs and relativity words (old, far, here) and fewer she-he words and discrepancies (could, would).
Both May and Corbyn were found to be relatively inauthentic compared to recent PMs and when faced with difficult questions – broken promises for May or IRA connections for Corbyn – both candidates have sounded evasive and distant. Interestingly, May and Corbyn are similar to Donald Trump when it comes to authenticity.
Trump generally has come across as authentic and personal (even if he was at times objectively incorrect). However, following the scandal with the leaked Access Hollywood tape during the campaign, Trump exhibited much less authenticity in the later debates.
While not quite so extreme, criticisms of May and Corbyn have impacted on their authenticity during the course of the campaign.
The researchers are continuing their analysis and plan to publish their results in an academic paper in the coming months.
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