Analyzing the Text of Obama’s State of the Union Address

by Eric Melin on February 13, 2013

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Whether its a company’s marketing message or the language that its customers are using, there  are useful insights to be gleaned from looking at the words that people use in a different context.

Websites across the globe (like Forbes, Huffington Post) will publish their own take on last night’s State of the Union address from President Obama. Each one will have their own political slant and respond to the President’s proposals based on their own agenda. You can read the speech in full and come to your own conclusion as well.

As marketers, though, we should be interested in the message and doing  text analysis on the words in Obama’s speech allows us a different perspective. (We can do the same thing by analyzing web and social media posts from all over the Internet about your company or brand.)

  • “Jobs” was by far the most-used word in the State of the Union speech, with 31 uses. The next closest word was “America,” (a given), with eight less uses.
  • An interesting word: “let’s” was third, with 20 uses. This implies a rallying cry — a call to action.
  • “Congress” was the sixth most-used word. This speaks to Obama’s theme of working together. Congress is often seen as a barrier to that concept.

Other interesting words (in descending order) that lay out the importance of some of the country’s biggest issues right now:

  • Energy
  • Education
  • Economy
  • Tax
  • Care, as in “health care”

The word cloud above shows the most frequently-used words in President Obama’s State of the Union address, with the most-used words appearing in larger text.

Text Analysis as Competitive Intelligence

Comparing and contrasting your message (or customer language) with that of your competitors is also essential for crafting smart, targeted marketing campaigns for your company. We compared the text of the President’s inaugural speech from 2013 with his first inaugural speech from 2009.

And on the 237th anniversary of the first publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, we analyzed that document to see what words Paine was using to prepare the colonies for war with England.

Lastly, here is a chart of the Top 20 words in President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, plus the percentage of the whole each one made up and the number of characters each word uses. That statistic is interesting to note when considering the readability of something (or Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score). Even though its usually the smaller word the better, the bigger word Obama used were “education” and “Americans,” so comprehension wouldn’t suffer from that.

It’s also interesting to note that “gun” did not appear in the Top 20, although many pundits picked up on gun control as a major focus of the speech. That suggests that Obama used different language to approach that touchy issue.*

Word Freq % Characters
jobs 31 0.48% 4
america 23 0.36% 7
let’s 20 0.31% 5
tonight 19 0.30% 7
american 18 0.28% 8
energy 18 0.28% 6
people 18 0.28% 6
congress 17 0.26% 8
families 17 0.26% 8
education 14 0.22% 9
americans 13 0.20% 9
country 13 0.20% 7
economy 13 0.20% 7
home 13 0.20% 4
tax 13 0.20% 3
time 13 0.20% 4
job 12 0.19% 3
that’s 12 0.19% 6
vote 11 0.17% 4
care 10 0.16% 4

*Although if you use the Ovaltine secret society decoder ring on Obama’s speech, it’s clear that he’s saying “I will take away all your guns.”

Image: ABC News, AP

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