State of the Union: Visualizing Obama's 2009-2012 speeches
By Eriq Gardner
Some things change and some things won't ever.
When President Obama gave the 2012 State of the Union speech Tuesday night, he spoke proudly about "America," talked about reclaiming the "American" way, and expressed the wish to help "Americans" throughout the country. Patriotic fervor is a hallmark of State of the Union addresses. Obama is not the first and won't be the last U.S. president to speak repeatedly about what makes this country great.
But as our word-cloud visualization below shows, "jobs" was the top issue expressed by President Obama on Tuesday. No other issue came up as frequently during the speech, and the leader of this nation cited "jobs" more times in this year's speech than in State of the Union addresses from years past. Up first is a look at the words most used in tonight's speech (and for a larger version, click it).
Let's compare what Obama said Tuesday to how it differs from what he's said in past State of the Union addresses.
As you'll see below, the economy has always placed prominently in his speeches, but in different ways. Early in Obama's presidency, when addressing the economy, he tended to use more alarming language like "crisis," balanced by the fact that he had a "plan" and the nation needed to restore "confidence." Compare that to 2010, when the language became more about "work," with specific plans laid out, notably on the "energy" front. By 2011, after Republicans swept Congress, the role of the "government" crept into his lexicon. As you'll recall, that was the year where Obama desperately pleaded that we needed a new Sputnik moment for the nation.
Tuesday night, what we saw is that Obama is stressing things like "make" "products," "industry," "manufacturing," and "values." The word "fairness" probably will get much attention in the press, but it didn't come up as much as the urgency of "new" and "now."
What else do we see?
Obama's first State of the Union featured "health" as a topic, understandable since the president's biggest campaign promise was passing health care reform. By the following year, the topic had already turned controversial. "By now it should be fairly obvious I didn't take on health care because it was good politics," he said. By 2011, Obama was attempting to spark renewed hope for the "future," by challenging Congress toward "innovation" and "meeting the demands of a new age." At the same time, we see that words like "deficit," "government" and "spending" had crept into his State of the Union lexicon. No surprise that President Obama spent much of the next year fighting on those very issues.
Here's a look at 2009-2011.
If there's a word that appeared more times tonight than we might have figured, it's "energy." It came up 21 times during the speech. Perhaps this is a sign that that the issue will drift to center stage in the coming year, as the president fights to create new jobs by investing in clean, renewable energy, and the Republicans attempt to score points by bringing up the Keystone XL pipeline as much as possible.
How did the president do?
Well, using data from our Crimson Hexagon partners, we also measured the issues that audiences on Twitter and Facebook were talking about in relation to President Obama's State of the Union speech. The first graph here comes from the days leading up to the speech. The graph shows that jobs were the top priority. Economic inequality ranked two. Way down in eighth place, at just 6 percent, was energy.
Still, Obama hit most of the right notes. More than a fifth of people discussing the State of the Union in social media wanted or expected the president to focus on the economy. That number kept climbing on Tuesday, as you'll see by the second graph below. (Again, click on each graph for a larger version).