With the first presidential debate broadcasting on Monday, the memory of the last major partisan events—the Republican and Democratic National Conventions—still remain. Both exhibited a lineup of celebrities and “everyday American” speakers over their allotted four days, addressing topics from national security to jobs to healthcare. But the question is how effective were the conventions in addressing what their parties—and Americans generally—were most concerned about?
Terrorism, the economy, unemployment, and healthcare topped the list of what Americans considered the most important issues, demonstrated by Reuters and Ipsos polls at the time of the conventions. Although more Republicans than Democrats considered terrorism a main concern, terrorism remained a top issue for both parties, and the remaining issues didn’t vary much along party lines.
Looking back, how did the Republican and Democratic Conventions do incorporating these significant issues and weighting their speeches according to party concerns? Using a text-mining analysis on the number of times any given issue was referenced from all of the featured speakers’ transcripts, we compared the two conventions.
Republican speakers referenced terrorism at a rate of four to one more than the Democratic Party’s speakers. Although Republicans fell just shy of reaching the general American electorate’s concern toward terrorism, the Democratic speakers fell drastically short of even their own party. The economy had only a slight difference (about 2% more) at the Republican convention, which for both sides was about the amount voters wanted to hear. Unemployment was referenced 7% more by the Democratic Party’s speakers than Republicans. Both parties actually could have spoken less on unemployment. The Democratic speakers mentioned healthcare almost as much as they did the economy and 7% more than terrorism. While Republicans did not match addressing healthcare with their voters’ level of concern, Democrats may have overemphasized it.
When comparing the most important issues to what was addressed, the Republican speakers matched their rhetoric fairly closely to the top concerns of not only Republicans, but Americans generally. In comparison, the Democratic speakers appear to have had a different focus, particularly when addressing terrorism and healthcare.
Looking Toward the Debates
Turning to Monday’s debate, what are Americans wanting to hear most? Pew Research finished a recent study asking what Americans feel the right amount of speaking time is for what issues (shown in graphic). The study shows that Americans, both Republican and Democrat, want to hear about keeping the U.S. safe from terrorism most.
Republicans, as evidenced during the convention, addressed terrorism and national security amply, while Democrats appeared less responsive. In the upcoming debate, will the Democrats again miss the mark? Will Hillary Clinton avoid addressing the issue that is most important to Americans as she did during the Convention? Maybe even more importantly, can she avoid to do so any longer? The debates will be telling for the next chapter in the march to the White House.
Bradley Anderson & Kameron González
Methods: Top issues were weighted by top four issues, sorted by Republican as there is some variation by party. Of the top issues, the word frequency is weighted by only top four displayed issues. The average American is an average of total American sentiment, including independents, during both the republican and democratic conventions.