Political News

These are the big words associated with Trump and Biden as the 2020 campaign closes

In the final days of the presidential campaign, Americans have the coronavirus and the final presidential debate on their minds when asked what they have seen, read or heard about President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Grace Sparks
CNN — In the final days of the presidential campaign, Americans have the coronavirus and the final presidential debate on their minds when asked what they have seen, read or heard about President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden's top word in the week ending on October 25 was "debate," referencing the second and final showdown between Biden and Trump. "Coronavirus" topped Trump's list, as it has in 14 out of the last 17 weeks of polling, with "debate" following closely behind.

These findings come from The Breakthrough, a survey from CNN, SSRS, the University of Michigan and Georgetown University tracking Americans' recall of news about each of the presidential candidates.

The results suggest Americans also remembered news surrounding Trump's rallies -- those have made his top five in each of the last two weeks -- as words related to the candidates' activity on the campaign trail rose in mentions for both candidates. "Lie" is the most notable negative on Trump's list this week, landing at seventh and up from the previous week.

On Biden's side, the second most mentioned word after the debate was "son." The result marks the second straight week of "son" near the top of Biden's list. When combined with other words related to published emails that purport to detail the business dealings of Biden's son Hunter in Ukraine and in China, the topic as a whole lands as one of Biden's top three topics for the second week in a row.

The emails have been seized upon by Trump, Republican allies in Congress and conservative media in the closing weeks of the election to attack the Democratic nominee. CNN has not determined the authenticity of the emails. The FBI is investigating whether the emails are connected to an ongoing Russian disinformation effort targeting the former vice president's campaign, according to a US official and a congressional source briefed on the matter.

Republicans surveyed were far more likely to mention the Hunter Biden story than were Democrats, and those mentions were concentrated among Republicans over 50. Overall, around 3 in 10 in that group recalled hearing about it, about double the share citing the story among younger Republicans. Fewer than 1 in 10 Democrats of any age mentioned something related to it when asked what they had heard about Biden recently.

Overall, sentiment toward the two candidates didn't change significantly in the last week, with sentiment toward Biden remaining narrowly more positive than sentiment expressed toward Trump.

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An analysis of how the last three weeks' worth of words affect those overall measures of sentiment reveals which words for each candidate are most likely to be used alongside positive expressions and to increase each candidate's overall sentiment score, and which are most likely to have the opposite, negative effect.

There are some commonalities across Biden and Trump responses: "Plan" and "job" are often associated with a positive sentiment for both candidates, as is "economy." "Lie" is a clear negative for both.

Although the positive or negative sentiment expressed in these survey responses may not directly correlate to views of the candidates more generally, the findings point to the types of messages that could have the greatest impact in the closing days of the campaign.

In Biden's case, "health care" is overwhelmingly positive, and "Obama" lands near the top of his list of most positive words. On Trump's side, "economy" and "America" are clear positives. Here's the breakdown on the positive and negative impact words for both candidates:

Most positive impact words for Trump

EconomyAmericaJobFeelReelectTrailYear DayPlanRun

Most positive impact words for Biden


Most negative impact words for Trump


Most negative impact words for Biden


On the negative side, "China" made it into the most negative words for both candidates. "Spread" and "tweet" are among the most negative for Trump, while "son" and "basement" were among the most negative for Biden.

Words associated with negative sentiment for Biden included both "mental" and "old," both part of a criticism frequently leveled at the former Vice President by his opponent.

Overall, the words with the most positive associations for both candidates had a similar level of impact on each of them. The negative words for Trump, however, had a larger negative impact than did Biden's most negative words.

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