Presidential Charisma: Who Should You Vote for?

We’ll see what the data has to say about that.

Where All the Data Science HappenedData Gathering and Cleaning:You can’t analyze without data, so I started answering my question by finding transcripts of ALL the presidential speeches that I could find.

Luckily, the Miller Center organization has a record of every presidential speech in American history, the content of these scripts was scraped from their website using Selenium and BeautifulSoup libraries.

Now this part was one the most challenging for me, to use BeautifulSoup with no prior HTML and CSS experience (I was rewarded with a web-scraper and some HTML knowledge in the end).

These transcripts were then saved into a dictionary with the name of the president and the corresponding speech.

The code can be found here, in addition to visualized on Tableau can be found here.

Quantifying Charisma:Charisma is tricky to measure, but I was set out to answer how to quantify it anyway.

In modern times leaders who deploy emotions, frame their vision and paint pictures of that vision with use of stories and metaphors are perceived as charismatic.

So Charismatic speech in a nutshell, contains three important traits:Use of personal opinion, emotion, stories and metaphors.

Express sentiments, show confidence and deliver a positive message.

Simplicity of the language used to resonate with variety of people.

With the use of NLTK libraries, TextBlob and Textstat, these three components were measured by:Readability: The Flesch reading ease measures a text difficulty based on two things: there are more words in a sentence on average, and the words are longer, or have more syllables.

Where higher scores indicate material that is easier to read and understand; lower numbers mark passages that are more difficult to read.

Subjectivity of text: Subjective sentences generally refer to personal opinion, emotion, stories or judgment whereas objective refers to factual information.

Subjectivity is a float which lies in the range of [0,1].

Polarity of text: This measures overall message of the text, it’s measured as a float which lies in the range of [-1,1] where 1 means positive statement and -1 means a negative statement.

I defined Charisma as the mean of Flesch Reading Ease, Polarity and Subjectivity scores for each president throughout all of the collected speeches.

Trump Speaks at Sixth-Grade Level:Flesch Reading Ease MeasureFrom the graph of Flesch reading ease, Trump has the highest reading ease since, well everyone, which is around sixth grade level, making it easy to read (conversational English for consumers) this translates to being easily understood by the average 12-year-old student.

We can see also that most presidents from 40 years ago average around 7th grade level, fairly easy to read English, expect Jimmy Carter who speaks at level of 8th to 9th grade.

Speaking to a large audience means speaking in ways we can all understand, and knowing what language will resonate with a certain crowd could get you far.

I went further and visualized the change of the English language across the years.

Simplicity of Language Across the YearsFrom the above plot, we can notice the trend of language simplification across the years, where it went from being at College level -difficult to read- to being easily understood by high school students or in today’s politics, understood by sixth graders.

Presidents with Most Positive Speeches:Presidents with Most Positive SpeechesWe can see that James A.

Garfield, Harry S.

Truman and Donald Trump had scored the highest on Polarity measure.

From the rest of the results the positivity of the speech unlike simplicity of language, it depends on the president character more than the time of the presidency.

For the rest of this analysis we’ll be looking at presidents with completed times at the office leading to the exclusion of Donald Trump from the final results.

Who’s the most Charismatic?Charisma MeasureRemember that charisma measure depends on the Flesch reading ease, meaning scoring high on reading ease will translate to being more charismatic.

Naturally, Truman and Bill Clinton are ahead here followed by Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Barack Obama and George H.



While some of these presidents like Clinton and Obama are still known to be charismatic, others such as Nixon, Johnson and Bush Sr have lost their charismatic appeal as their political fortunes went downhill, suggests Jonathan Bernstein in Forbes article, political scientist and blogger.

Performance in Office: Presidential Historian SurveysTo complete the data needed, the American presidents ranking data acquired from the presidential historian surveys, a survey that ranks presidents based on ten different factors, such leadership in crisis, moral authority, relations with Congress and economic management.

Correlation Between Charisma and Ranking:Correlation Between Charisma and RankingThe performance ranking and charisma are two independent variables, we can see in the figure the scatter plot of the two.

The correlation between them is equal to 0.

168, signifying a very slight positive relationship between the two variables.

However, assuming any kind of relationship will need more comprehensive way of measuring charisma, but for now we can conclude there is no correlation between the two.

Presidents Who “Walk Their Talk”:Now in following figure after adding the correlation lines for each half a century, we can see some interesting results; Presidents beginning from 1950's have close by scores opposed to preceding presidents, where their scores are more scattered.

During the 1950's, with widespread and popularity of television in the United States, making it the primary medium for influencing public opinion, presidents started paying more attention to how they’re addressing the public.

Correlation Between Charisma and RankingLooking at the lines from 1850,1900,1950, we can see a positive correlation between Charisma and Ranking, so presidents from that time were more likely to walk their talk.

Moving on to 21 century, we can see that there is no correlation between charisma and ranking, it is almost a straight line.

So it is more likely for presidents during our time to talk the talk but that doesn’t necessarily mean their performance will reflect how good of talkers they are.

Charismatic leaders are associated with knowing what is best, outperforming in certain aspects, saviors of the day in a sense, but really all that charisma does is enable you to influence people and get your message across, regardless of how effective or sane that message is.

It doesn’t necessarily make you better at making decisions that will steer a country in the right direction.

This brings us to conclusive answer, no matter how charming a president or a candidate for presidency is during times of elections, debates or speeches, it doesn’t say anything about how good they’ll perform later on if elected.

So when you vote next time, keep in mind that there’s nothing about being charismatic that makes a president more effective as a leader.

This project was completed as part of the Art and Science of Data Fellowship.

Sources Used:Flesch Readability EasePresidential Historian SurveysWhat Voters WantVoting for a candidate is not about policy or experience — it’s about charisma, researchers findVoting Behavior.

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