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Donald vs Hillary: Brand Voice

Justin Watkins

September 2016

Hillary Clinton said it at the debate: words matter.

In marketing, we call it brand voice. Your brand voice should resonate with your audience and differentiate you from competitors. But word choice has a big impact on your message. Politicians know this better than anyone: using the wrong word can mean the difference between winning and losing an election.

To understand the brand voice of our presidential candidates, we ran word counts from the first presidential debate and some of their channels – policy pages and Twitter – to find the words most often used to describe their ideology, opponents and flagship issues.


Top Adjectives from the Debate

The words you see here are what the candidates relied on while responding to issues in real time, which might explain why there are several similarities on the list. It’s easy to fall back on words like “good” and “really” when you’re in the spotlight with your opponent. Of course, there are a few differences, like Clinton’s use of nuclear (as in, nuclear weapons) and Trump’s use of tremendous (as in, “Our country has tremendous problems.”). Especially during a debate, messages crafted on the fly can be difficult to stick with, which is why we chose to look at several of the candidates’ owned channels as well.


Top Verbs and Adjectives from Trump’s Immigration Policy and Clinton’s Immigration Policy

Trump’s policy on immigration uses the word “illegal” 20 times and “foreign” five times, while Clinton’s policy doesn’t mention either term at all. This isn’t a mistake on either of the candidate’s parts, as these words carry a lot of weight and mean different things to both candidates’ audiences.

Top Verbs and Adjectives from Trump’s Gun Policy and Clinton’s Gun Policy

This issue has been a serious point of discussion for both parties this election, and the stark contrast of word choice between candidates reflects that. For Trump, “abiding,” “carry,” and “defend” were used mainly in reference to the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. On the flip side, Clinton’s use of “dangerous” and “accountable” reflect the campaign’s focus on dangerous individuals and gun dealers.

Top Verbs and Adjectives from Trump’s Healthcare Policy and Clinton’s Healthcare Policy

We were surprised when “free” showed up as Trump’s most-used adjective. Turns out, it’s referencing the free market. Clinton’s words were less surprising, and you can see she’s really hammering home a focused message because, you know, the Affordable Healthcare Act. Thanks, Obama.

Top Verbs and Adjectives from Trump’s Economic Policy and Clinton’s Economic Policy

Compared to the other topics, this one is fairly generic and balanced. Trump keeps it simple. When it comes to the economy we need to “Increase” it and keep it “American.” The only one-sided word listed here is Clinton’s “share” as in “rewards are shared with everyone.”


Top Verbs and Adjectives from @RealDonaldTrump and @HillaryClinton (March-August 2016)

Welcome to 2016, where Twitter battles define presidential campaigns. There’s no hiding that Trump’s Twitter presence is slightly more expressive compared to the typical presidential candidate. It’s no surprise to see “crooked,” “bad,” and “big” as frequently used adjectives. Clinton is a little more traditional and measured with her language.

While this probably won’t change how you’re voting, you can see why words and brand tone matter.

Words Differentiate

Trump and Clinton don’t speak alike. They don’t write alike. They’ve chosen tones and themes that show how different they are and connect them with their unique audiences.

Words Motivate

Both candidates know exactly which trigger words get their followers amped up.

Words Spread

The world loves a good soundbite, rally cry, zinger or nickname.

Much like the presidential candidates’, your audience relies on your word choice and brand voice to convey your values and knowledge. Consider how your own tone positions your brand, engages your followers and motivates them to share your message. An election might not be at stake, but your audience is.