Fast Company

State of the Union Address Word Cloud Shows Obama Thinking About "People"

SOTU cloud

Last night President Obama gave his State of the Union address, and how could we resist? We had to run his words through our usual text analysis process and dig into the speech.

The annual presidential address to Congress is key for each incumbent: It reveals their stance on recent news items and hot-topic issues, and its reception by politicians and the public can be regarded as a barometer of how well the President is doing--both from a political and personal standpoint. What were people expecting Obama to say? There was anticipation he'd make a call for more "civility" in U.S. life, as several presidents have done before him, in the wake of the Tucson shooting. And he did: "Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater--something more consequential than party or political preference." Speculation also surrounded how Obama would tackle the health care issue--forever embroiled in a bi-partisan political war.

But what were Obama's most used words throughout his speech? One was "People," people. He said it 30 times--clearly the people of the U.S. are on his mind, and he wanted to personalize his address to appeal to the population. "New" beat "people" by with a count of 33, but that's nothing new--presidents like to talk about the new changes and improvements they've made, and are going to make...if they can.

Then came "jobs," with 25 uses. Employment and unemployment are hot-topic items, and Obama obviously wanted to highlight his stance on the matter with his fellow politicos and the public. The U.S.'s "workers" popped up just six times, but "work" was used 21 times--things have to work, as do people, if Obama is to win re-election, eventually. "Make" is prominent in the word cloud too--probably because you have to make changes to make things work.

Interestingly "government" popped up 18 times, suggesting Obama is acutely aware of the responsibilities, frailties and issues of the governing machine. "Years" was a prominent word, suggesting that Obama was trying to distract listeners from being critical about short term government slip-ups, or political news that's just of the moment.

And then we glance at the rest of the word cloud and see something interesting: There's no real standout phrase other than these fairly unexciting words. We don't see "defense" or "Afghanistan" or "Iraq," and there's no "need" or "must" or "sorry" or even many "promises." "Innovation" barely gets a look in, and only slightly beats "technology." We're missing the word "science," which is a shame as Obama piqued our interest by promising a science-friendly term in office, and a future-focused one too. "Future" did get used 15 times, but "tonight" was used 13 times, which devalues the promise of futuristic thinking somewhat. Even "health care" isn't prominent in the word cloud.

Compare the word cloud to Obama's SOTU from last year:

You can see that in 2010 Obama was happy to talk about "America" and his fellow "Americans" as well as generic "people," but that he also mentioned the "economy", "businesses," "families" and energy. "Health" and "reform" are in the mix too. A more resolute, issue-centric speech.

Then glance at this, the word cloud of the response to Obama's 2011 SOTU speech from Minnesota's Michele Bachmann (a key Tea Party figure, let's not forget):

Bachmann wasn't afraid to shy away from the big issues she sees facing the nation: "Unemployment," and an overgrown "government" that's big on "spending." "Obamacare," as a critical phrase is clear in the cloud too, alongside "health." "Debt" is a stand-out word, but mainly she kept her criticisms centered on the "president."

All in all, it seems the President was playing it safe with this 2011 SOTU speech, covering as many bases as he could and avoiding inflammatory language or hot-topic issues. He used "can" 36 times...but "will" with 61 uses implies he's aware there's a lot to do in the near future.

Read more State of the Union coverage

Word-cloud thanks to Wordle.

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3 Comments

  • Bob Watkins

    I wonder if Wordle can be fine tuned? In the SOTU2011, if you add together the variants of America (America, America's, Americans) it might stand out more. It's even more pronounced in SOTU2010.

    Great article, thanks for doing this!

  • Paul Weber

    Hey - you should remember that the "usual text processing" is called Wordle.
    It's available at http://www.wordle.net

    I have no affiliation whatsoever with the programmer - however given the usefulness and the popularity of the program it is only correct to point out who wrote it and where it is available (for free).

    Ciao

    Paul