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Kentucky Primary 2019: Here's How The Gubernatorial Candidates Use Language

Over the past few months, WFPL interviewed five of the eight people running for governor. The other three candidates, including current Gov. Matt Bevin, did not respond to our request for interviews. During these interviews, we asked each candidate the same core questions on a variety of topics including abortion, climate change, school budgets and the state's pension crisis.

Going into the ballot box, we think hard about the different positions candidates hold on the topics we care about. Much can be gleaned from listening to a candidate’s answers to a specific question. But seeing words and phrases a candidate uses over and over throughout an entire interview provides insight into the interests that they might bring to office if elected.

We took all the answers given by candidates during their interviews and turned them into data. For each answer they gave, we recorded the candidate’s name, their answer, the question and the topic of the question. Then, we split those answers up into single words and phrases. We were then able to count the number of times a candidate used a given word or phrase.

Using this process, we were able to determine which words all candidates were using to talk about a specific topic and which words specific candidates used throughout their interviews.

Specific Topics

Each candidate was asked questions on abortion, climate change, incarceration rates, Kentucky’s pension crisis and school budgets. Here are some of the similarities in how they answered these questions.

Three of the five candidates interviewed used the phrase “health care” when talking about abortion, and four of the five referred to the topic as an “issue.” No other topic covered during the interviews used that word as often.

Climate Change
60 percent of the candidates used the words economy, change and renewable when they answered questions about climate change. Man-made climate change was acknowledged by every candidate.

Incarceration Rate
The word most used by candidates when talking about incarceration rates was “people.” Candidates took a very human-centric approach to talking about Kentucky’s incarceration rate. Three of the five candidates also talked about voting rights and addiction in reference to incarceration.

Medicaid Expansion
Every candidate interviewed was in favor of maintaining Medicaid expansion. Again, the most used word here was “people.”

Pension Crisis
Most of the candidates disagreed with Bevin’s handling of the pension liability. The word “wrong” was used by most of the candidates. Two candidates spoke about expanded gaming while discussing solutions to Kentucky’s pension liabilities and two candidates described the situation as a “crisis.”

School Budgets
All of the candidates used the word “education” and most used the word “teachers” when talking about school budgets, showing an emphasis on learning rather than just the monetary aspects of the budget. Most candidates classified school budgets as a “priority.”

Candidate Responses

Perhaps it is unsurprising that the candidates spoke frequently about Kentucky and its people throughout their interviews. And each candidate used keywords relating to the questions that they were asked. But each candidate had different keywords of choice throughout their interviews.

Rocky Adkins

Adkins used the phrase “public education” across many topics. Unemployment, economic development and health care are all issues of public education for Adkins. He also spoke often about industry and building throughout his interview, placing emphasis on the importance of working with industries to improve the economy of Kentucky.

Adkin’s longest response during his interview was to a question about climate change:

Andy Beshear

Beshear spoke a lot about education issues, specifically referencing “teachers” frequently. He also made it a point to incorporate “rural Kentucky” and “eastern Kentucky” into his answers on several different topics including economy, health care and climate change.

Beshear’s longest response during his interview was to a question about energy transition:

Adam Edelen

Edelen used the term “renewable energy” frequently during his interview, and not only when asked questions about energy and the environment. Renewable energy is a big part of his vision for a better economy in Kentucky.

Edelen’s longest response during his interview was to a question about climate change:


William Woods

Woods is a fan of “common sense.” He used the phrase often to support his views on a variety of different topics. He also used the word “money” throughout his interview, usually to express that the money needed to finance his goals as governor exists but is being mismanaged by the current administration. He is also the only candidate to use the word “fear” so frequently. Several times he referenced the fear being put into people by the current administration and how, as governor, he would remove that fear.

Woods’ longest response during his interview was to a question about Medicaid expansion:

Geoff Young

Young, a Democratic candidate, used the word “Democratic” more than any other candidate. He referenced the Democratic Party but also called frequently for more democratic practices in government. He also used the word “immoral” to characterize several decisions made by past and current administrations, for example, the recent efforts to limit access to abortion and the rollback of Medicaid expansion.

Young’s longest response during his interview was to a question about political toxicity, asked by a young person in the community.

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