State of the Union Speech Comparison

January 30, 2014
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(This article was first published on More or Less Numbers, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

The State of the Union is historically a speech used to set the tone for the year...at least I think that's what it is.  The process of writing these speeches has been discussed before and first-hand detail is available in this article.  I was interested in seeing the difference in language between the 2013 and 2014 State of the Union address in terms of what was said.  A lot was said in each speech so I narrowed it down to words that were mentioned 20 times total in the two speeches.  Below is a wordcloud showing these words, with the larger words having a higher frequency.


You can see just from this wordcloud how these speeches seem to take a more emphatic/determined/action-oriented tone with the word "will" having the highest frequency (aside from another word we will see below).  Also, you can get an idea of some of the policy issues he discussed.

As noted before, I wanted to compare the two speeches to see which words were being used more/less when comparing the two.  The number of times a word is mentioned in the 2013 State of the Union address is on the X-axis and the 2014 address is on the Y-axis.


Probably one of the odder yet clearer takeaways from this graph is the applause given in 2014 vs 2013 (in the speech text this appears when there is pause for applause also for cheers).  The President went into this speech having a very low approval rating.  That being said, was the applause a function his party knowing his lack-luster rating?  Or was it just that the speech was better and elicited much more applause than last year?  It is interesting that this year's speech received more than 10 additional pauses for applause than 2013.  "Jobs" was used more last year in the speech than this year whereas "help" was used more this year.  This may reflect some of the policy decisions with the Affordable Healthcare Act having been past and other programs intended to provide "help" for Americans.   Last year after the election jobs and employment were a large part of what worried many Americans (and for many still does).  "Energy" was mentioned much less in this year's SOTU.  Perhaps the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline influenced the topic of energy as a priority in the speech this year.  Many of the words were also very linear in their use (seen clustered around 10).

Context is certainly important in speeches and this technique of comparing words by no means completely depicts what is important or how things were communicated.  However, the words that are chosen for these speeches are strategic and outline (if not in function than in form) the year for the president and his priorities.  

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