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Word choice highlights differences between Democratic, GOP debates

The terms used in the two GOP debates and those used in the Democratic debate show some clear differences.

It’s no secret Democrats and Republicans often find themselves at odds on key issues, but the recent debates have highlighted that divide.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pointed out some of the differences during his closing remarks at the Democratic debate on Tuesday.

“On this stage, you didn't hear anyone denigrate women, you didn't hear anyone make racist comments about new American immigrants, you didn't hear anyone speak ill of another American because of their religious belief,” he said.

In fact, that was the only time the word "religious" was used in the Democratic debate. In addition, the way Democratic candidates spoke about immigration and women was quite different from the way the Republican candidates did.

Here are some comparisons of how different words were used in the debates:


In comparison to the one mention of religion by O'Malley in the Democratic debate, during the two GOP debates, religion was brought up seven times, most often in discussing about religious liberty.

God was mentioned only three times in the Democratic debate, each time by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while using the phrase “God-given potential.” During the GOP debates, candidates or moderators said "God" 24 times — primarily in the first debate with Fox News when Megyn Kelly asked the candidates a question from a viewer who wanted to know if any of them had “received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.”


During the Democratic debate, the words "equality," "inequality" or "equal" were used 12 times. They were used mainly to discuss income inequality and the fights for racial equality and equal pay for women. In both Republican debates, neither the terms "equality" nor "inequality" were used. The word "equal" was used four times in the phrase “equal protection under the law” or with relation to “under God.”

The phrase "Black Lives Matter" was used in the Democratic debate six times, but only once in the GOP debate — when Kelly asked a question about the group.


Both Republicans and Democrats brought up the country’s immigration system, mentioning immigration or immigrants 56 and 24 times, respectively. Republicans, however, used the phrases “illegal immigration” and “illegal immigrants” in nearly half of those mentions.

When Democrats specified the legal status of immigrants, they used the word "undocumented." In both CNN debates, the moderators used the term "undocumented immigrants," as well.


Republican candidates discussed women more than the Democratic candidates — mostly in reference to defunding Planned Parenthood. The word “abortion” was used 13 times during the GOP debates, while it was not used at all in the Democratic debate.

Health care

All the debates had discussions about health care, but, like immigration, the terminology used differed between the Republican and Democratic candidates. During the Republican debates, “Obamacare” was used 19 of the 23 times someone spoke about health care. During the Democratic debate, "health care" was said 12 times, and “Obamacare” was only used twice by one of the moderators, CNN’s Juan Carlos Lopez.

Climate Change

The Democratic candidates made climate change a major topic in their debate, speaking about it 22 times. In the first GOP debate on Fox News, climate change was not mentioned. In the second debate, it was mentioned 10 times.


Taxes were discussed 34 times in the two GOP debates but only mentioned three times during the Democratic debate.

Foreign Policy

The main foreign policy topics discussed in the debates were the Iran nuclear deal and the crisis in Syria involving ISIS.

Iran was mentioned 69 times in the GOP debates, mostly to express opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. In the Democratic debate, Iran was mentioned 14 times.

Syria was mentioned 28 times in the the GOP debates and 22 times in the Democratic debate. The word "refugees" was used three times in both CNN debates, but not at all in the first GOP debate on Fox News.

ISIS was mentioned 49 times in the GOP debates — but only four times in the Democratic debate.

President Barack Obama

President Obama was mentioned about the same number of times in each debate. There were a total of 66 mentions of him in the GOP debates, and 32 mentions in the Democratic debate.

Opposing front-runner

During the two GOP debates, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton was mentioned 62 times. In the Democratic debate, Republican front-runner Donald Trump was only mentioned three times.