The Veriblog

Talking Taboo: Election Politics in the Exam Room

With the first two debates in the books and a third fast approaching, you may be thinking to yourself: “I don’t care for either one of those people.” You most likely wouldn’t be alone. The undecided voter gained a face with Ken Bone during an earlier presidential debate, but what do others say? We checked out our database of over 12,000 patient-physician conversations since mid 2015 to examine what everyday people and physicians are really saying about this election season.

Physicians and patients often have a “small talk” component to the office visit, where they discuss any number of topics surrounding the main reason for the visit. With the 2016 presidential election fully underway, it’s no wonder that both candidates are popping up in conversation.

We looked back over any discussion of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton since each declared candidacy for president, and noticed a not-so-alarming trend in opinions. While there were significantly more mentions of Trump compared to Clinton (63 vs. 21), the banter and tone largely remained the same: Could we find no one better than these two candidates?


Verbatim quote from a physician discussing the election with their patient in the Verilogue database


Patients and physicians alike discuss the common hot-button topics of today’s election: Clinton’s email scandal, Trump’s refusal to share his tax information, and Obamacare’s fate, with what can be best described as awe and political exasperation. According to the Huffington Post, the top words American’s used to describe each candidate were largely negative. From “liar” to “arrogant”, it’s no surprise that our database shows disgruntled and downright sarcastic interpretations of the presidential candidates. In fact, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 52 percent of adults in the United States are very or somewhat stressed about the 2016 presidential election.


Verbatim quote from a physician discussing the election with their patient in the Verilogue database


In many cases, discussing politics as “small talk” is a social taboo, something not be discussed with people you don’t know well or in “polite company”. This election, however, is different. The extent to which patients and physicians discuss their political leanings in office is often surprising. Of course, both Trump and Clinton supporters are found throughout the country, and both doctors and patients describe in some detail their feelings about the candidates, for better or worse.

PT: Yeah. Did you watch the debate yesterday?
DR: I watched the debate, yeah. What did you think of it?
PT: I don’t know. I thought it was a little iffy. I don’t know why –
DR: Are you a, a Trump guy or a Clinton guy?
PT: That, I think that explains it.
DR: Oh, you’re a Trump. I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you. While I think in theory I like what Trump says.
PT: He just, he lets too much loose. He’s a little stupid.
DR: He’s, I don’t trust this guy like having the nuclear codes of the country.

DR: What do you think?
PT: Uh, I don’t think I want Trump, but –
DR: You know, it’s an interesting thought. It’s, like, people say that same thing. They’re like well –
PT: It could be worse. I mean, I, it could be worse if it’s Clinton. I mean, that’s the scariest thing.
DR: I know.
PT: She’s very bad. Sorry.
DR: Don’t worry, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not democratic.
PT: Yeah. It’s just, um, I don’t know, I, it’s just that republicans have [INAUDIBLE] and Americans have become apathetic and it’s just all, take their time, you know?

Patients and physicians alike express a begrudging support, with both pro- Trump and pro- Clinton voters voicing a general disdain for both candidates, even while choosing one or the other- the lesser of two evils, perhaps.

Regardless of which candidate patients or physicians support, there is an underlying tone of patriotic obligation to vote:

PT: You know, I hate to vote for either one of them, but I’ll have to.

As linguists, we are usually looking for subtle clues to meaning: reading between the lines in a conversation to figure out what’s really going on, even though the participants likely don’t say it out loud. When listening to discussions about this election cycle, however, doctors and patients give us a break from playing detective, by saying how they really feel. 


Shannon Sysko is an Analyst at Verilogue. She completed her BA and MA from the University of Delaware, focusing on Applied Linguistics. When she’s not analyzing what people say and how they say it, she enjoys traveling and marathoning TV shows.


Janine Robinson is an Analyst at Verilogue. She has a Master’s Degree in Linguistics from San Jose State University, and has dedicated her life to figuring out why we say what we say when we say it.



Verilogue offers fly-on-the-wall access to candid healthcare conversations between patients and their healthcare providers. Verilogue’s trained linguists analyze these dialogues using their expertise, and provide unique insights for our clients. Reach out with questions or comments via the below form!

%d bloggers like this: