[skipwords]It's U.S. presidential debate season again, which means voters will have the rare chance to judge potential presidents side-by-side, without teleprompters, on live TV. The candidates may not always answer questions directly (or at all), and the debates may devolve into platitudes and talking points, but it's still the closest thing to a presidential job interview that most Americans ever get to see.

 

Environmental issues typically take a back seat in presidential elections, and this year's focus on the economy has so far continued that tradition. But the environment always comes up at some point — and unlike the rest of the campaign trail, it's harder to dodge tricky issues under the spotlight of a presidential debate.

 

The 2012 presidential race features three debates with three different formats: domestic policy (Oct. 3), town-meeting style (Oct. 11) and foreign policy (Oct. 22). The first two are more likely to address environmental issues, especially those in the current political zeitgeist — things like offshore oil drilling, natural gas development, carbon dioxide emissions and clean-energy incentives, to name a few.

 

To get a sense for how candidates' environmental priorities have changed over time, I decided to look back at the past 20 years of debate transcripts, courtesy of the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates. Most presidential elections feature two or three debates, but for simplicity I combined the transcripts into one long document per election. I then made a word cloud for each, revealing the most frequently used words by displaying them in larger text.

 

The word clouds can be interesting, but I also wanted to see how much attention was given to environmental issues over time. So, after combining each year's debate transcripts, I searched for a few dozen words and phrases related to environmental policy. I entered terms like "energy," "environment," "climate change" and "offshore drilling," noted how often they appeared in each year's debates, then made a second word cloud of environmental terms for each election season. Check it out below:

 

2008 — Sen. John McCain (R) and Sen. Barack Obama (D)

 

• Full word cloud:

 

 

• Environmental word cloud:

 

 

2004 — President George W. Bush (R) and Sen. John Kerry (D)

 

• Full word cloud:

 

 

• Environmental word cloud:

 

 

2000 — Gov. George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore (D)

 

• Full word cloud:

 

 

• Environmental word cloud:

 

 

1996 — President Bill Clinton (D) and Sen. Bob Dole (R)

 

• Full word cloud:

 

 

• Environmental word cloud:

 

 

1992 — President George H.W. Bush (R), Gov. Bill Clinton (D) and businessman Ross Perot (I)

 

• Full word cloud:

 

 

• Environmental word cloud:

 

 

 

Related U.S. politics stories on MNN:

 

The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of MNN.com. While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.