Word Association Quiz

The Washington Post has a new poll out asking respondents to name the the ONE word that comes to mind after hearing the names of Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain. The top word for Romney? Mormon. For Perry? Texas. For Cain? 9-9-9. Interesting that the two governors – who have had years to establish their policy credentials – get words related to identity, while Cain – the political neophyte – is most closely associated with a policy. The number two word for Cain is “businessman/business”, which I think shows the power of a catchy policy slogan. Take away 9-9-9, and Cain gets you an identity word as well, albeit a professional identity. I also think it is illuminating that “businessman/business” category doesn’t show up on Romney’s list until the 20th slot, while for Cain it is the second most popular word. Also worth noting is the fact that Mormon is first for Romney, while “black” doesn’t show up until 8th on Cain’s list. While there is undoubtedly some element of social desirability bias affecting this result – people may be hesitant to tell pollsters that the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Cain is that he is black – it is interesting that there does not appear to be a similar desire to avoid telling pollsters that people think of Romney as Mormon.

My personal favorite, however, is the comparison of the third most popular word used to describe each candidate. See if you can guess who got which word?

  • Interesting
  • Idiot/Idiotic
  • Flip Flop/Flip Flopper

Answer are here.

5 Responses to Word Association Quiz

  1. Andrew Gelman October 20, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    I think what we’re seeing here is a silly-season feature story for the news media. I too see the amusement in these poll findings, but I hate to contribute to the hype-of-the-week.

    • Joshua Tucker October 20, 2011 at 10:09 am #

      Andy: Don’t you think we can learn something interesting about the dynamics of candidate support from these types of polls? After all, usually we are looking at closed-answer question, and we rarely get to see what the voters think of first. In particular, I think there is something interesting here about (a) the fact that the longer you are in the public spotlight, the more time there is for negative assessments to go on and (b) it gives us another to tool to track something like the rise and fall of Perry. Imagine we had time series data here – wouldn’t the proportion of respondents saying “Idiot” over time be an interesting way to track, say, the actual effect of debate performances, or of the change in tone of media coverage?

      • Andrew Gelman October 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm #


        Yes, I agree.

  2. Gary October 20, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    The small numbers (60 “Mormons” for Romney is the highest number for any word) make me wonder how much we can conclude from this. The relative proportions of positive and negative words for each of the candidates is interesting, however – if we can trust the Post’s classification of words. Is “evangelical” positive, neutral, or negative? “Job creation”? “Cowboy?” “New?”

    Agreed that Cain has branded himself extraordinarily effectively in this short time. 9-9-9 may be policy idiocy but it’s marketing genius. Then again we saw what ended up happening to Steve Forbes & the flat tax.

    • Joshua Tucker October 20, 2011 at 11:33 am #

      That was my point in my response to Andy – these kind of polls *may* give us access to data to test things like “marketing genius”. Although it is possible that once we have consistently good tools for mining data from Twitter in real time (a la @kinggary’s Crimson Hexicon company) these types of polls (and their small number problems) will be less important.