In a survey last week, the Pew Research Center asked a question whose form I’ve come to find interesting and useful: “What one word best describes Barack Obama/Mitt Romney/Joe Biden/Paul Ryan?” (As it happens, in my upcoming book, I use this type of question to show what people really think of sales.)

The answers to these questions are revealing in a way that other types of polling often are not. For instance, a quick look at the responses for Obama (below) and Romney (below that) reveals the amount of vitriol coursing through the election of 2012. “Socialist,” “loser,” and “sh**” for the incumbent; “liar,” “jerk,” and “crook” for the challenger. And the responses for Biden and Ryan show that the former has an image problem and the latter, at least in my opinion, has gotten an easy ride so far in the campaign.

Barack Obama in One Word
Mitt Romney in One Word
Prediction:  The one-word method will become more prevalent, especially as data meisters collect truckloads of linguistic information from social networks.


17 Responses to “Obama and Romney in a word”

  1. Clint says:

    I do market research for the undisputed leader in polling, and really like this kind of unaided awareness, verbatim research for the qualitative value and visual impact. Resonates more than a scaled mean rating.

  2. enbee says:

    The one-word method will become more prevalent as you predict, and of course offer no analytic value whatsoever.

  3. Dan Pink Dan Pink says:

    @enbee — Thanks for the comment. Alas, I disagree that this methodology has no analytic value. This technique isn’t meant to replace traditional polling, but to supplement it. For instance, the Obama/Romney word clouds couldn’t tell you who’s leading the race — but they do offer a great deal of insight into why people are making the choices they are.

    • Phil Simon says:

      There has to be some value from these types of snap reactions. Maybe this won’t replace polling and focus groups, but we have to open to new forms of data and analysis.

      • Darin Schmidt says:

        Forgive me if you don’t fall into this group, but there is tremendous support behind snap decisions from folks who have read 2/3 of Blink. The punch line is at the end – there is a place for reason and consideration.

        I am incredibly interested in the new research on emotion and irrationality, but I think its ultimate value is to reaffirm the steep slope that rationality faces. I do fear there is a new Dark Age around the corner, powered by folks who have convinced themselves that thinking is not important.

  4. Bob Watkins says:

    I liked the editorial cartoon I saw recently in which Obama’s policies were described by the single word, “Patience”, and Romney’s by the single word, “Sacrifice”.

  5. Tammy Redmon says:

    Interesting. I guess it makes aligning ones values to a campaign easier, doesn’t it? But then I would have to ask, what else does this show us? For leaders I can see using this method with our teams to take the pulse on “how are we (or am I) doing” in a word. But the key there is taking action on the new learning. For purposes of a campaign, I would hope one would see that the words they use are powerful, all on their own. And you might want to make sure that is what you want representing you.

  6. Dave says:

    I am not sure that the words given were given as Positive/Negative/Neutral. How is that decided, on what scale?

  7. Jacques Vis says:

    Nice method as an addition to others.
    As a teacher I use in my classes the “three words method”.
    It gives students the possiblity to give positive negative and neutral assessments.

    By the way, the amount of negative feelings people have towards public figures, anonymously expressed on the internet is shocking.

    • Darin Schmidt says:

      It is shocking, until we realize that the internet is like road rage but posters don’t realize the windows are down.

      Check out Tim Ferriss and haters. Great points for dealing with the bile.

  8. Bob Maxwell says:

    I suggest that the prediction of the use of data from the plethora of social network data mining will be the most relevant use.
    We are still learning what this latest phenomena will lead us to , or how we will get there, I suggest it will be another interesting journey. If another one does not start before this one finishes.

  9. Darin Schmidt says:

    Why is socialist negative for Obama but conservative is neutral for Romney? Even in simple number counting, the surveyors can put their spin on the process.

  10. Suzanne says:

    I find illustrations like these interesting indeed perhaps because it shows how widely diverse the public’s opinion of the candidates really is. Words like “greedy” and “dishonest” are still associated with the wealthy. What a pity. Suzanne

  11. I like the illustrations and think they are pretty accurate, however I do not believe Mitt Romney is very honest.

    Today he is said to call his 47% comment completely wrong. He looked pretty confident when he made them now he wants to retract the statement.

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