Forget the Swift boat ads, the economy or international terrorism. Here's what really may have decided the last presidential election:
President Bush and Vice President Cheney sounded more presidential than their Democratic counterparts. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) seemed the most depressed or suicidal. And Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), sounded the most like a "girly man."

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin collected transcripts of 271 televised interviews, news conferences, town hall meetings and candidate debates conducted in 2004. The speech samples -- more than 400,000 words in all -- were run through a computer text-analysis program. The team included lead author Richard B. Slatcher, a doctoral candidate in psychology, and professor James W. Pennebaker.



The key to their study is previous research that has identified subtle but distinctive linguistic patterns and words that, for example, differentiate the way men and women talk.
Specifically, they rated each candidate's use of language along six dimensions: cognitive complexity (marked by sophisticated sentence structure and word choice); femininity (use of words and speech patterns favored by women); depression (use of words that are markers for depression or known "indicators of suicidality"); age (preference for words favored by young or old people); presidentiality (speech patterns and frequently occurring words favored by presidents since FDR in their speeches); and honesty (based on analyses of samples of truthful and deceptive language).
Cheney easily sounded the smartest of the four, while Edwards and Bush favored the least sophisticated language patterns, Slatcher and his colleagues report in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Research in Personality. When it came to sounding presidential, both Bush and his running mate scored considerably higher than Kerry or Edwards. Bush was the oldest-sounding candidate. Edwards also was the most likely to use feminine speech patterns and "female" words (Bush was a close second), while Cheney sounded most like a man's man.
The vice president sounded the most honest of the four, and Kerry the least. Kerry's language also was most like that of a depressed person, followed by Edwards. Perhaps that's inevitable; after all, challengers must sound gloomy and doomy about their opponents' records, though in doing so they run clear risks.
"Voters are most favorable toward those candidates who are the most optimistic," Slatcher said. "The depressive language that Kerry and Edwards used during the campaign may have contributed negatively to the way in which they were perceived by the public."