IBM Watson Compares Trump’s Inauguration Speech to Obama’s

Jeremy Waite

** Sunday 22nd. I’m flattered that so many have read this article since I posted it an hour after the speech on Friday. Since then it’s received a VERY mixed response. The thing is, I wrote this simply for my own amusement just to see what some of Watson’s personality profiling API’s might make of it. Turns out that 1,116 words was just a bit too small of a data set to offer any significant comparisons. So enjoy what I found, but given the appetite for this kind of analysis I’m currently working on a MUCH bigger (and deeper) piece, by feeding all Trump’s speeches and EVERY one of his tweets into Watson. Now that should make for some interesting results. Will post later this week. **

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[This post was not officially approved or endorsed by IBM. Views my own etc..]

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It’s been an interesting day. The 45th President of the United States of America took office just two hours ago, and he is clearly unlike any other President that has gone before him. So just for fun, I thought I might feed his inauguration speech into Watson in real-time, in order to see what the smartest computer in the world had to say about it. Would he notice any anomalies, or insights that the professional political commentators might have missed? Might we some people respect Trump a little more if they looked at his speech more analytically than emotionally? Have a look for yourself at all the data below and make up your own mind. The conclusion I drew was not at all what I expected…

Donald Trump’s incoming press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Thursday 19th January that his inauguration speech would be “A very personal and sincere statement about his vision for the country. He will discuss what it means to be an American, the challenges that we face, as members of the middle class, that they face.” With the help of long-time speech-writer Stephen Miller, Mr Trump wrote a relatively short speech referring to ideas from his campaign such as “America First” and the need to “Make America Great Again“. Just five years earlier, we were listening to a slightly different rhetoric.


“We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”


That was one of the many bold yet resolute declarations made by the 44th President of the United States of America, President Barack Hussein Obama, in his Presidential Acceptance Speech 2012 after a long-fought political tussle with Governor Mitt Romney. Being one of the greatest orators in our times, to describe President Obama’s Acceptance Speech as “electrifying” would hardly be an overstatement.


In fact, for anyone who has been attuned to President Obama’s manner of speech crafting and delivery, you will notice that his speeches are often peppered heavily with stories and personal anecdotes, gratitude and over-flowing humility, inspiration and an amazing sense of intimacy, rallies for solidarity and empathy for diversity.

The late 19th century poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, expressed the power of speeches succinctly enough,

“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”


Inauguration speeches have always been highly anticipated ever since the first one was delivered by President Lincoln in 1861. Since then there have been 57 inauguration speeches varying in length from 135 (George Washington) to 8,460 words (William Henry Harrison). A lot has changed over the years, not least of which the average attention spans of the general population. When Obama took office, it was suggested by many analysts that the attention span of the average person was 8 seconds. Today, as Trump takes office, that attention span has dropped by 40% in just 8 years to just under 5 seconds.


The challenge of Trump’s administration, much like the challenge facing the brands that I work with today, is to tell their stories in the fastest and most compelling way possible ~ breaking down their big ideas into bite-sized chunks.



About Inaugural Speeches


The election of each president of the United States brings about new ideas, new political discourse, and the potential for great change. Presidents are elected based on their ideas for change and on their vision for the future of our country. Throughout the election process, candidates make dozens of speeches, share countless press releases, and discuss new ideas and policies with thousands of people—but one speech stands as the pivotal and monumental starting point for the presidency: the presidential inaugural address. An inaugural address can be defined as a speech “happening as part of an official ceremony or celebration when someone (such as a newly elected official) begins an important job.” It is a time when, “the nation listens for a moment as one people to the words of the man they have chosen for the highest office in the land.”


A great inauguration speech should really accomplish five tasks:


  1. Be frank and honest about the realities of the economy and wars
  2. Address the sagging morale and lack of confidence
  3. Appear strong
  4. Offer an olive branch to the world
  5. Make a call-to-action for personal contributions (along the lines of “Ask not what your country can do…”)


These speeches are forever remembered throughout history and serve as the first official speech from the newly elected president. A speech is a powerful tool. It can inform, demonstrate, persuade, or serve as entertainment. Any speech made places major emphasis on the language used to accomplish its goals, but political speeches, especially inaugurals, place an even higher importance than most.


It is a speech that must take into consideration the audience, mass media, and the future. It must represent the past while focusing on the future and the Nation’s idea of it. This speech, that comes once every four years, has become a pivotal moment in American history each time it is given. An effective “inaugural address, worthy of its occasion, winds history into its every sentence. Echo and allusion, direct quotation, bind the day to the great words and deeds of all the days before it.


Therefore, each president must take every aspect of their inaugural into consideration in order to achieve an inaugural address that will be well received by the immediate audience and historians alike.


Obama’s Chief Speech writer


Barack Obama’s First Inaugural was primarily written by his speechwriter Jon Favreau. At just 27 years old, Favreau had already become one of the youngest chief speechwriters in the White House, an unattainable job to most. He was recommended to Obama by Robert Gibbs after he had worked on John Kerry’s campaign and has since been called Obama’s “mind reader” by the President himself. The process of writing the first inaugural was a joint effort. Obama began the process by sharing his vision for what the speech would entail while Favreau feverishly took notes on his computer. Favreau would be up most nights until 3am, honing the next day’s stump speeches in a caffeine haze of espressos and Red Bull energy drinks, taking breaks to play the video game Rock Band.


Favreau, along with a team of other speechwriters, then spent weeks researching past inaugurals, presidents, and U.S. history before he came up with the first draft of the inaugural. The first draft was rewritten several times (mostly in Starbucks apparently), then reread and further edited by Favreau and Obama, before the final version, which would be read directly in front of 1.8 million Americans (and hundreds of millions on TV globally).


It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” Woodrow Wilson


Trump’s Speech Writer


By stark contrast, Trump claims to have written most of his inauguration speech himself. The decision is a departure from how Trump tackled speeches during the campaign, when he either delivered off-the-cuff remarks or relied on text prepared by his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.

Miller, Trump’s campaign speechwriter and an occasional warm-up act for him on the campaign trail wrote his main speeches, including his Republican National Convention address in the summer. Miller was initially expected to write Trump’s speech, but it is unclear exactly to what extent he has been involved in fine-tuning Trump’s draft.

Despite Trump suggesting that he writes his own material, perhaps all is not what it seems? Take a closer look at that photo… is that a Sharpie in his hand not a pen?! The paper looks very much like it is blank. Anyway…


IBM Watson Analysis


I wanted to ask Watson to analyse and compare the inauguration speeches between Obama and Trump because I don’t think there has ever been a stronger emotional response to either president’s inaugural address. Whether it was Obama becoming the first ever black president, or Trump becoming the first president with no formal political background, it is clear that both speeches were very highly anticipated. Obama had served 12 years as a public servant before he became president, compared to Trump who has spent the last 47 years building his own personal brand and business interests.


Commentators are already reading much into the fact that Trump is insisting on keeping his personal twitter handle @realdonaldtrump and not using the official @POTUS twitter account, as a sign that he is continuing to build his “personal brand” instead of speaking from “the office of the president”.


Whatever conclusions you draw from the political circus that we have watched perform over the last few months, you could not pick two presidents with more diverse backgrounds, both personally, professionally and economically.


“In the end, people are persuaded not by what you said, but by what they understand”. John C. Maxwell


Whatever your political views and personal opinions are, it’s far too easy to get caught up in the hysteria surrounding Trump and make assumptions around him and his presidency. It’s fair to say that he has made himself an easy target for media commentators to attack, but I wondered what might happen if you tried to analyse his speech without any bias, personal agenda or emotion influencing the results. That is essentially what Watson does. He just looks at the data, compares it to his vast knowledge database and makes assumptions and reasoned hypothesis based upon what he has already learned.

So I asked Watson to help analyse Trump’s speech specifically using four API’s:

  1.  Speech-to-Text
  2. Sentiment Analysis
  3. Tone Analyser
  4. Personality Insights



Since he took office, Obama has given over 3,500 speeches, some of them regarded among the finest presidential addresses of all time, so it would unfair to compare one of those to Trump’s inauguration in order to compare styles and personality. Instead I wanted to compare both inaugurations head-to-head in order to make it a fair comparison. I wondered if Watson could answer questions such as “because Obama was a politician who trained as a lawyer, would his inauguration ‘feel’ different to Trump’s, a business man who trades on the power of his name and the brands that it represents?”. You would expect the obvious answer to be yes, but let’s have a look at what the data really said.


Note: This analysis is simply for emotional context and analysis, and not meant to draw any conclusions about his actual intent or meaning. Others much more skilled than me will be writing far better political commentaries and editorial than I could ever wish to write. This analysis is just my own (done for fun with no agenda), and does not represent any views or official comment from IBM.


The pressure on the speech writing teams of both presidents to deliver an inaugural address that both excited and stabilized the nation must have been huge. Let’s see what Watson made of it.


Over to you Watson…


Inauguration of Donald Trump, 20th January 2017

Personality insight summary from Trump’s inaugural address when it was fed into Watson for personality profiling.

You are analytical, excitable and can be perceived as critical.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are mild-tempered: it takes a lot to get you angry. And you are altruistic: you feel fulfilled when helping others, and will go out of your way to do so.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of organization.

You are relatively unconcerned with both achieving success and taking pleasure in life. You make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents. And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

Main personality attributes visualized, using natural language processing within IBM Watson’s Alchemy API.

From my interpretation of these results, Watson thought that Trump made a solid speech, ticking all the right boxes as Obama, but it wasn’t very happy or imaginative speech and it didn’t seem to inspire or excite anyone. It just confirmed that he was bold and brave (practically attacking the previous Presidents who were just sat a few feet behind him) and he was stating his intent as a leader who was on a re-building mission to get stuff done.

I found it fascinating that Trump scored 7% higher than Obama in “trust” (82% to 75%) on the personality scale, even though Obama actually spoke about trust and Trump never mentioned the world once. It is emotional insights like this that make the case for cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson helping to understand what people might mean mean, even if they are not actually saying it.

Keywords looking at frequency of words used during Trump’s 1,116 word speech.

Tone analysis to understand key emotional drivers from within the speech and how the audience may perceive it.

Sadness featured heavily in Trump’s speech, with many commentators noticing the lack of joy or the kind of uplifting message that a President usually delivers during his inaugural address

Inauguration of Barack Obama, 20th January 2009.


Personality insight summary when Obama’s inaugural address was fed into Watson for personality profiling.

You are analytical, particular and can be perceived as critical.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are self-controlled: you have control over your desires, which are not particularly intense. And you are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them.

Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.

You are relatively unconcerned with both achieving success and taking pleasure in life. You make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents. And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

Main personality attributes visualized, using natural language processing within IBM Watson’s Alchemy API.

Keywords looking at frequency of words used during the 2,420 word speech.

Tone analysis to understand key emotional drivers from within the speech and how the audience may perceive it.

Sentiment of key words and topics within the speech

Obama used a more emotional and joyful narrative and a wider emotional range overall during his inauguration, carrying forward his campaign theme of “Hope“.

Visual Data Comparison Between Trump v Obama


As previously stated, I’ll leave any political bias and political commentary to the professionals that we will read from in the newspapers tomorrow, so I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from Watson’s data.

My conclusion is that Watson’s analysis wasn’t actually that conclusive, especially given how dramatically different both speeches were. Trump was quite aggressive, lacking empathy and not very respectful of previous Presidents, whereas Obama was very forward looking and much more optimistic. The only conclusion I can really take therefore is the shortcoming of Watson, not the shortcomings of Trump’s speech. This is because the sample sizes that I asked Watson to analyse was simply too small. 1,116 words for Trump and 2,420 words for Obama is just not a big enough data set to accurately analyse. In this instance, while Watson made some interesting insights, he really needed ten times as many words to make the kind of assessment that a human would make naturally.

When people talk about “machine learning” this is what they are talking about – the fact that machines need to “learn“. The more data you give them, the more accurate they become. This makes me very tempted to feed ALL Trump’s speeches into Watson, and I’m sure the analysis would look quite different. It’s clear from these last few charts which compare the emotional attributes of Obama’s 2009 address to be almost identical to Trumps address, that Watson simply hadn’t learned enough to see the differences between these two small data sets. Given Trump’s dark view of “American Carnage” versus Obama’s more uplifting message of “Hope“, the two addresses were verydifferent. Humans saw this instinctively. Watson, not so much.

Who needs such lengthy analysis anyway?

USA today summed up the speech perfectly using just three words (short, dark and defiant), compared to Watson who tried to analyse the speech using several hundred words. There are perhaps many jobs (especially creative jobs like journalism) that computers will never be able to do.

Where both President’s are concerned personally, Trump certainly polarizes emotions much more. Look at the extreme negative sentiment analysis that Watson picked up on when he mentioned “American carnage” and “Radical Islamic terrorism” and how it will be wiped off the face of the earth. Strong words.

What is clear is that Trump is “a doer“. He kept emphasizing how he will “get the job done” and “restore the promise of America“. He’s a business man who wants to get stuff done, but perhaps more by bulldozing his way through situations rather than trying to rally people around him. NBC commentators that I listened to explained the lack of positivity in “the key of ‘We‘”. Obama used “we” almost twice as many times as Trump during his inauguration (60 v 27). Read into that what you will. Perhaps as a businessman, the success of his presidency will lie in his ability to surround himself by good people, much like you would expect of a billionaire successful businessman, with a track record of getting things done.

Both speeches used a similar structure, both used “people” and “power” a similar amount, it was really just the emotional delivery and intent that separated them.

Obama is much more ideological. He was a much better public speaker in my opinion who could connect with an audience on a deeper emotional level than Trump. Trump obviously has a huge amount of supporters, but it’s fair to say that it’s much more difficult to feel inspired by Trump’s sober speech which was focused around fear and sadness, compared to Obama’s which was centered around hope and joy. Watson noticed this and surfaced more emotions of sadness than joy from Trump’s speech.

The rhetoric of “Buy American, hire American” was clearly a very tweet friendly sound-bite, made for a generation of people with short attention spans, but it obviously struck a chord. My initial sound analysis looked like Trump received a round of applause 26 times, compared to Obama who only received 12. (Trump spoke for 16 minutes, Obama for 18), but as I mentioned above, Trump’s speech didn’t “feel” anywhere near as emotional as Obama’s. This is something that Watson wasn’t able to pick up on.

As a businessman, Trump is spoke more from his gut and with much less sensitivity than Obama did. As a seasoned lawyer and career politician, Obama was skilled at winning over hearts and minds of the world leaders and people who he needed to share his vision with. It was a Bill Clinton style of leadership which said, “Let me join you, this is what we should do together“. Trump, as the business leader and man of action will likely rely on a leadership style more like Bush who said, “Here’s what we’re going to do, follow me“.

Both styles of leadership are valid in different situations and resonate emotionally with different groups of people. What remains to be seen is whether Trump will continue to speak in such a carefully measured and precise way, one he get’s into office and starts having to make those gut decisions under-pressure, especially when they concern topics that he knows very little about. This will need to be done by building trusting relationships with those around him.

Not sure what else there is to say, so I’ll leave you with the words of another feisty New Yorker…

“Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK. It’s not the end”. John Lennon


Original post: IBM Watson Compares Trump’s Inauguration Speech to Obama’s

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