Revolution vs. Movement: Analyzing the Speech Patterns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

When it comes down to it, we judge a prospective political candidate on a whole host of things: their personality, their looks, their stance on the issues, and so on.  But it’s hard, because often political candidates try to steer our perceptions of them in a certain way, even if they’re incorrect (George W. Bush, while campaigning, said he was going to devote time and effort to combating global warming…but once he took office he did an about-face and started saying global warming was a hoax).  Nevertheless, we have to push through all the nonsense and get to the truth in any way we can.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are two candidates vying for your vote in the primaries.  I’m choosing these two to analyze mainly because they are the two who have actually held rallies up here in the Twin Ports area of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  You can discern a lot about someone just from looking at how they speak.

Let’s get started.



This one is going to be a little tougher for one simple reason: Sanders’ rally was back in January, three months ago.  My memory of the event is likely to be a little foggy at this point.

But I digress.  Sanders is a very soft-spoken man.  Even when he raises his voice, it doesn’t sound particularly threatening or loud.  Normally, this would preclude a man from being charismatic, but Sanders makes up for it with his word choice.  He comes across as very controlled and articulate.  The one thing that most people know about him from this election cycle is that he refers to his campaign and supporters as being part of a “political revolution”.  It’s one of the most well-known and derided things about his campaign, perhaps only second to his preference for being called a democratic socialist.  Sanders uses very grand and sweeping language to get this effect across.  And to that to end, let’s look at some more specific things in his word choice.

For one, Sanders doesn’t often refer to “me” or “I” in his speech.  He peppers his sentences with liberal uses of the word “we” or “you”.  A specific instance of this was when he started bringing up the polls comparing him against the Republican candidates to see who would win in a general election.  The Clinton campaign often banked on the idea that Hillary is more electable than Sanders, an idea Sanders refuted.  He brought up the polls, but every time he referred to the numbers comparing his campaign against a Republican, he used the phrase “we beat them” and then threw out a number.  He never used the words “I beat them” by such and such an amount.

And this was a key theme in his rally.  It was always “we” the revolution, not “I” the revolution.  Sanders stressed the fact that his political revolution only worked if everyone came together and made an effort.  He never said “if you elect me I will go to Washington and fight for you”, which is a phrase often used by politicians (and is now a laughable cliché in the eyes of many).  Near the end of his rally, he stressed the fact that the fight was ongoing, and that it wasn’t going to get any easier if he got elected.

The only thing I could fault Sanders on is not providing a ton of specifics for how he would do things.  But as often as the case with rally, the focus is less on specifics and more on hype.  And as we’ll see with Donald Trump, leaving out specifics is a common thing in political speeches.



In comparison to Sanders, Trump is an entirely different beast.

But there are similarities between them.  They both talked about the system being broken.  They both blame corporations for the loss of jobs in the United States.  They both talked about the establishment caring only about the establishment and doing whatever they could to keep the current system going.  Certain parts of their message are actually quite similar in a way, which I found surprising.  But as people, Sanders and Trump are very different.

Trump’s rally took place just a couple of days ago here in the Twin Ports area.  Compared to Sanders, Trump had a lot of “I”s and “me”s in his word choice.  His speech was, for a large portion of it, about him.  He told stories about people going up to him and saying things.  He talked about how he was going to do things, how he was winning, and how he took out his competitors.  And that dominated most of the first half of his speech.  His language was the language of competition, the language of someone who wants to win.  And to that end, he also stressed the size of the crowd that showed up to hear him speak, making reference to the people who were still waiting to get in.  He even referenced the Sanders campaign, but brushed them off, saying that they couldn’t get the same crowd size as they did (which is debatable, but comparing rally sizes is a difficult thing because getting an accurate count of people is incredibly difficult).

Instead of a “revolution”, Trump called his campaign a “movement”.  And he described his supporters as being “sick and tired” of the way things were going.  Like Sanders, he highlighted the corruption of the system and the need for it to change.

On the issue of specifics, Trump is especially dodgy.  During his speech, he claimed several times that he was going to tell us how he was going to get something done.  And then, minutes pass with no clear answer.  This was especially notable during his tirade about building the wall to stop immigration.  He said he was going to explain his plan to get Mexico to pay for the wall, but he sidestepped into talking about the military and veterans.  I only point it out because it is a strange tactic to use, but apparently effective (in fairness, he did outline a plan the day after his speech where he essentially said he was going to blackmail Mexico into paying $5-10 billion for the wall by threatening to cut off remittances, which are sums of money sent as payment for goods and services or as a gift).

Trump is loud and brash (he ever refers to the protesters outside his rally at one point, calling at least some of them “evil” if I heard him correctly).  Compared to Sanders, Trump comes across as low-brow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for his supporters.  In fact, that’s what a lot of them like about him.  They see him as having a no-nonsense attitude, unafraid to say what he wants to say.  He even once got the crowd to chant “lyin’ Ted” in reference to his opponent Ted Cruz.

Donald Trump strikes me as someone with a bit of an ego.  He likes to talk himself up (as evidenced by his preference for using “I”s and “me”s in his sentences).  His campaign focuses on him getting stuff done, on him winning the nomination and going to Washington.  To be fair, he does occasionally use the word “we”, but it was vastly out-shadowed by his first-person language.



I may be a Sanders supporter and I may not like Trump, but I found comparing Trump and Sanders to be a fascinating exercise.  Trump is certainly a character, and I can at least see some of what people like about him from watching his speech.  It’s funny, but Sanders and Trump have the same kind of message in a way, but have different methods of getting it across.  It would be far too simplistic of me to say that Sanders equals love and Trump equals hate, so let’s go with this instead: Sanders’ message equals a kind of inclusiveness, an urge for all of us, regardless of race or religion, to work together to make our country and the world a better place.  By contrast, Trump’s message focuses on a kind of exclusivity, on strengthening the country as a whole but disregarding the rest of the world stage, which he sees as taking advantage of the United States.  His idea is that we need to care for ourselves rather than police the world.

Regardless of who you support, I thought I’d just share my impressions of two fascinating and polarizing figures in this election season.  It has certainly been one of the most interesting elections in recent history, with continually record-breaking turnouts and primaries and caucuses.  In the end, regardless of who wins, things in our country will not be the same.  The political conversation has shifted, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

Trump was definitely right about one thing: the entire world is watching to see what happens with this election.


So that’s all I have for this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.


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