Coming Next – Computer-Composed Political Speech

Who do folks believe is the most authentic candidate?

By Diane Smith

Have you heard about the computer program that writes political speeches? That’s right. Evidently, political speech has become so predictable that there’s now an algorithm that will spit out a speech that reflects Democratic or Republican principles … just for you.

Valentin Kassarnig of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (pop. 38,000) created an algorithm that takes in thousands of real political speeches on one end and “writes” computer-generated speeches on various topics based on their patterns and terminology.

“Many political speeches show the same structures and same characteristics regardless of the actual topic,” Kassarnig wrote in his study explaining the algorithm. “Some phrases and arguments appear again and again and indicate a certain political affiliation or opinion.”

No wonder spontaneity and authenticity are emerging as such valuable assets in this presidential election.

Take Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both men are dramatically different in their politics and personal lives, but they share a tendency toward political speech that I bet would challenge Mr. Kassarnig’s computer program. Indeed, both Sanders and Trump are so unconventional that the media proclaimed them DOA as candidates until just a few weeks ago. While Trump’s media skills kept him in the public eye anyway, Sanders has fought for every moment of media coverage he’s received. But, either way, going into the Iowa caucuses Sanders and Trump have proven deeply popular, resilient, and able to connect with folks who don’t ordinarily show up for presidential politics. Since Iowa is a flyover state with lots of small towns, extraordinary people, and high stakes in the upcoming presidential election, we’re paying close attention to whether these unlikely caucus-goers actually turn out.

If Trump and Sanders show well in Iowa then this presidential race might come down to this question: Who do folks believe is the most authentic candidate?

Maybe we’re exhausted from political speech that’s so ordinary a computer can compose it. Maybe we’re getting better at figuring out which candidates are just reciting what the focus groups, consultants (and now computers) would have them say. Maybe our distrust in elected officials, institutions, and the media has resulted in our valuing emotional connection and authenticity over substantive policy proclamations or detailed plans that rarely see the light of day. Maybe our shortened 21st century attention spans limit us to speed dating our presidential candidates, despite the long-term commitment we are actually making.

Regardless of how we get there, this presidential election is a big one. For those of us in rural and small towns, our next president will make decisions regarding our military commitments, energy vs. environmental policies, technology infrastructure deployment, and the future education of our kids. Any one of these is huge; taken together they could be life changing. Matters like these require more than an algorithm. Here’s hoping the early primary states pick well.

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