In the Republican debate last month on CNN, candidates didn’t pull any punches when it came to Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of State was namechecked 41 times by her Republican opponents, who slammed her on policy and frequently sought to align her with the Obama administration. No other Democratic candidate was specifically named.
Wednesday evening, Democrats finally took their first turn on the debate stage. But if you guessed the Democrats would spend all night trash-talking Trump, Bush, or Carson, you were wrong. Trump was the only Republican candidate mentioned by name during the three-hour event—and only twice.
That’s not to say the Democrats went easy on their across-the-aisle opponents. But rather than focus on a single candidate, they took wider swings at the Republican party in general. Clinton and Sanders referred to the GOP 16 and 11 times, respectively, compared with Rubio’s and Fiorina’s four and three mentions of “Democrats,” “the left,” or “left-wing government.” Democrat Lincoln Chafee and Republican Ben Carson are the only two candidates who did not knock the opposite party or an across-the-aisle opponent.
Indeed, while the debates often touched on the same issues, Democratic and Republican candidates tended to use different language. The Republican debates had 11 mentions of Israel, often in conjunction with Iran; the Democrats cited the country just once while discussing the nuclear deal. The middle class, a key constituency in a campaign that is likely to center on income inequality and economic issue, was nearly four times more likely to be mentioned by Democrats than by Republicans.
Note: When counting mentions of a candidate, we searched for any word or phrase that referred to that person, be it a name, title, or pronoun.
When counting party mentions, we included any synonym that referred to the party or its ideology (ie. “conservatives,” “the left”, “liberal ideals”). We excluded any mentions that didn’t cite the opposite party’s ideology or behavior—so Lincoln Chafee’s explanation of his membership in both parties didn’t count.
The debates compared in this story were both hosted by CNN, and both lasted approximately three hours.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.