Presidential Candidate Word Association

The most recent Washington Post poll included a section that asked respondents to identify the word that popped into their heads when a candidates name is mentioned. The results are, shall we say, interesting.

  • For Herman Cain, the top five responses were “9-9-9” at 42 mentions; “Business/Businessman” at 30 mentions; “interesting” at 23 mentions; “Good” at 22 mentions; and, “Pizza” at 19 mentions. The first negative word association for Cain is “Inexperience/Inexperienced” at 12 mentions.
  • For Rick Perry, the top five responses were “Texas” at 55 mentions; “No” at 15 mentions; “Idiot/Idiotic” at 15 mentions; “Governor/Governor of Texas” at 12 mentions; and, “conservative” at 12 mentions. Just below the top 5 is “Dislike” at 10 mentions
  • For Mitt Romney, the top five responses were “Mormon” at 60 mentions, “Health Care/RomneyCare” at 17 mentions; “Flip Flop/flip flopper” at 13 mentions; “Good man” at 13 mentions; and, “No/No Way” at 12 mentions.

In some sense, you can see the core of Perry’s problem here, and Romney’s. Many of the words that voters associate with them are negative, while most of those associated with Cain are positive. As long as that’s the case, they’re both going to have a tough sell with voters.

H/T: Taegan Goddard

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    Well, Cain is good at branding. Even if his plan is idiotic, he certainly succeeded in cementing it in the voters’ minds.

    Romney – Mormon!

    Yeesh. I don’t know what to make of that. When Lieberman ran, I doubt the first word people would have said is “Jew.” One wonders to how many of those voters is “Mormon” a negative.

  2. Dave says:

    It’s an old political truism: The candidate most closely associated with the word “pizza” always wins.

  3. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    The Washington Post still is being published??

    In any event, word association games are appropriate for cocktail parties and even can be fun exercises when booze and nakedness are involved but to juxtapose them onto a political contest is ludicrous. This must be a slow news day.

    That said, Romney’s major problem is and always has been the Mormon issue — at least so far as the primary is concerned. Perry’s major problem is that given the peculiar demographics of GOP primary voters the more key decisions you’ve made in public office the less they like you. Cain’s major problem is that no matter how often the media pimps his candidacy in the end he won’t actually be the nominee. Fringe candidates don’t win national primary contests, regardless of how whacked out the chattering classes have become.

  4. Vast Variety says:

    Is Pizza positive or negative? =)

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    Romney has other problems. He did not learned anything with the mistakes of the last two major presidential contenders that came from his state.

  6. @Tsar Nicholas II: Yes, Tsar, The Washington Post is still around and will stay that way for a lot longer time than The Washington Times will.

  7. Terrye says:

    I think that will change after this debate…now when people here Cain’s name.they will think sales tax.

  8. Tom Hilton says:

    @Dave: But only if there isn’t another candidate closely associated with beer.