Using speech technology for political analysis

A case study analyzing the speech of 15 candidates for Oakland’s 2014 mayoral candidates using Pop Up Archive, Voyant, and Wordle.


Edit 11/16/2014: Since our original October 31 post, Democrat Libby Schaaf won the vote to become Oakland’s Mayor-Elect.

In the old days, transcribing and analyzing the speeches of 15 political candidates would have required the efforts of an entire newsroom. We decided to leverage technology to do the grunt work for us.

“Wordle” word cloud generated from the KALW’s Oakland Mayoral Special.

Over the past weeks, KALW’s Crosscurrents team has interviewed all 15 mayoral candidates for Oakland’s November 4 election. We generated Pop Up Archive premium machine transcripts for all of them, then ran the resulting text directly into corpus analysis tools Wordle and Voyant Tools to see the top trends emerge before our eyes.

While these interviews represent only a tiny portion of each candidate’s platform, the data offer insights into the words used by individual candidates, and in the campaign as a whole.

It’s a close race: a SurveyUSA poll released by KPIX on October 22 showed five candidates in double digits ahead of the ranked choice vote: Rebecca Kaplan (19%), Libby Schaaf (17%), Jean Quan (15%), Joe Tuman (15%), and Bryan Parker (10%).

We took three edited Crosscurrents interviews of similar length for three of the leading candidates (Quan, Parker, and Kaplan) and compared the results:

Jean Quan: The Incumbent Mayor

In this interview, some of incumbent Mayor Jean Quan’s most frequently used words, as analyzed by Voyant, were “know” (used seven times), “years,” (four times), and “scholarship” (three times).

Bryan Parker: Bitcoin and Big Business

Bryan Parker, with a background as a corporate executive, is branding himself as “the businessman” of the mayoral campaign. One of his most notable talking points is his strategy to rejuvenate impoverished areas of Oakland with the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Sure enough, one of the keywords seen in his Wordle is “bitcoin.” Other frequently used words include “housing” (used six times), “jobs” (four times), and “diversity” (three times).

Rebecca Kaplan: Frontrunner

This is Rebecca Kaplan’s second time running for mayor of Oakland (she was defeated by Jean Quan in 2010). Currently leading in the polls, some of her most notable frequently used words include “police” (four times), “relationship” (three times), and “community” (three times).


Looking at a longer, unedited interview, here is what we found for popular mayoral candidate, Libby Schaaf.

By analyzing the Pop Up Archive transcript for this 25 minute interview with KALW Crosscurrents, we found that some of Schaaf’s most frequently used words include (unsurprisingly) “Oakland,” (said 60 times), “police” (24 times), “school” (11 times), and “housing” (8 times).

View word frequency results by candidate on this Voyant Tools dashboard, with analyses for all 15 candidates in the November 4 mayoral race.

You can peruse the full analysis of all candidates in Voyant Tools, or listen to all the candidate interviews in Pop Up Archive.

Don’t live in Oakland? Let us know about the next election you’d like us to track. We’re up to the task.