After a long and contentious campaign season, the final 2018 midterm ballots have *mostly* been tallied, the political landscape altered, and “the experts” are already prognosticating about what the next months will bring. The pundits and know-it-alls intensely watch a handful of races to be finalized, and the cable TV news shows are still wall-to-wall with panels and contributors and operatives and hosts all talking over each other. We’re not surprised when they interrupt and shout at one other.
This past election cycle has felt different. Yes, all elections are hard-fought battles with impassioned candidates and supporters, but with the explosion of social media – especially Twitter – the intensity and language used during the previous few years seems to have taken a turn – for the worse.
Whether you’re a political junky, a casually interested follower, or only catch the daily news on your TV at night, you’ve no doubt seen clips of people yelling at one another, and occasionally using foul language. It has seemed to be particularly warm, and particularly course this election cycle.
But is there any actual data that supports what we all have regarded as a trend – a public discourse that has descended into potty-mouthed discussions in the political space?
Well, yes – there is. Without further ado, we present: Potty-Mouthed Politicians
Using specific methodology (described below), we’ve analyzed cursing patterns by office-holding politicians: who’s cursing the most, what are their preferred curse words, and how have these trends evolved over the past few years?
Trends Over Time
That icky feeling you’ve been feeling about the decline of public discourse in recent times is correct – it’s become worse. And here is what the numbers say:
Note: 2018 numbers are annualized.
Not surprisingly, the largest monthly spikes have come in January 2018 and November 2018 – just this year. In the former case (January 2018), many politicians’ comments surrounded President Trump’s roundly reported comment regarding “sh*thole countries”; in the latter (November 2018), they surrounded President Trump’s use of “Son of a b*tch” at a political rally. Interestingly, sh** and the f-word usage has risen dramatically between 2017 to 2018 while other curse word usage, collectively, has remained rather constant.
And the problem as a whole is bipartisan! (Not the kind of bipartisanship America is looking for). But even when it comes to swearing, Republicans and Democrats can’t find common ground. Among Congressmen, Republicans have used cr*p 29 times and sh** 12 times, while Democrats have used cr*p just about as many times, 32, except they have posted “sh*t” 87 times – more than 7 times as often as Republicans. In any case, no matter what they are posting, there are a lot of potty-mouthed words going around in Washington – on official political and government accounts. That of which they’re posting, there’s a lot of in Washington.
A snapshot of potty mouth words over the past 4 years and the relative frequency of curse words used by elected officials is below:
Interestingly, politicians’ patterns resemble those of the general population, except that politicians use a**hole more frequently relative to other curse words than does the population as a whole.
The Pottiest-Mouthed Politicians
The award for Pottiest-Mouthed Politician goes to…
1. Sherry Frost, a state legislator from New Hampshire has cursed an amazing 415 times since 2017 (353 if you don’t count “d*mn”). She has posted an original Tweet with a curse word 331 times and retweeted 84 potty mouthed posts. Her favorite curse word is sh**, which she has used 119 times, with *rick (91 times) and f*** (66) close behind. Here’s a recent tweet.
In distant 2nd-5th place are:
2. Poncho Nevárez, a state legislator from Texas (173 posts);
3. Bruce Franks, a state legislator from Missouri (137 posts);
4. Susan Allen, a state legislator from Minnesota (108 posts);
5. Deborah Glick, a state legislator from New York (99 posts).
On Capitol Hill, at the Highest Levels
The award for Pottiest-Mouthed Senator goes to:
1. Bernie Sanders (VT), who has posted a curse word 41 times. Example: https://www.facebook.com/senatorsanders/videos/10156681574572908/.
Following Sen. Sanders are, way behind:
2. Jon Tester (MT) — 7 posts
3. Rand Paul (KY) — 6 posts
4. Bob Menendez (NJ) — 6 posts.
The Pottiest-Mouthed Representatives are:
1. Lacy Clay (MO-1), who has posted a curse word 37 times. Example of a retweet: https://twitter.com/CharlesMBlow/status/959242190496165889.
Following Rep. Clay are:
2. Scott Taylor (VA-2) — 23 posts
3. Frederica Wilson (FL-24) — 21 posts
4. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) — 20 posts.
If we exclude the word “d*mn,” then the Pottiest-Mouthed Congressional Member is still Rep. Clay, except this time followed by:
2. Karen Bass (CA-37) — 10 posts. Most common stem curse word: sh** (10 times).
3. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) — 8 posts. Most common stem curse word: sh** (7 times)
4. Rick Larsen (WA-2) — 8 posts. Most common stem curse word: cr*p (5 times)
One hopeful sign for Americans is that with each election, there are usually great stories of class and humility as candidates on all sides concede an election defeat to their opponent. Just recently, viral videos of GOP Representative-elect Dan Crenshaw of Texas accepting SNL cast member Pete Davidson’s apology and complimenting Pete as well. Arizona GOP Representative Martha McSally conceded defeat to Senator-elect Kyrstin Sinema in a fun, humble video post, including her dog Boomer.
These are just a few examples, but let’s hope elected officials all across the country decide courtesy and politeness is the way to go, and the trend of the potty-mouthed politician and the language used by them reverses course.
For this analysis we looked at all elected Representatives’ and Senators’ official social media accounts, both on Facebook and Twitter. In a more substantial effort, we looked at the official accounts of over several thousand state legislators who post on official Facebook or Twitter accounts. For this analysis, politicians’ campaign accounts were not included unless the politician did not have an official office account.
The choice of curse words was inspired by several lists of the most commonly used swear words in the English language. For those interested, they can be found even further below. Variants of the stem words (e.g., plurals, gerunds, compound words) were counted as well.
For purposes of analyzing this list, we included instances when a politician directly posted a curse word, directly Retweeted a post/tweet that included a curse word, or cursed while commenting directly to a tweet.
*Here is the list of “potty mouthed” words included in the analysis:
A**hole, b**tard, b**ch, cr*p, **nt, d*mn, d**che, f***, jacka**, *rick, p*ss, sh**