State of the Union Speech: Obama Sounded a Lot Like Clinton

Friday, January 29, 2010

Instead of conducting the more common subjective analysis of State of the Union speeches, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight

decided to perform a word-choice comparison. After tallying up the key buzzwords used by President Barack Obama and comparing them to those utilized by his predecessors in midterm election-year addresses since John F. Kennedy in 1962, Silver concluded that the president’s speech most resembled those of President Bill Clinton in several ways.
Obama uttered the word “jobs” 29 times on Wednesday and variations of “work” or “working” 34 times. This reminded Silver of Clinton, “who also dealt less in abstractions about the economy and more in the question of jobs in particular.”
Obama also invoked Clinton through the frequent use of the terms “family” and “families,” which were used 20 times.
Silver says Obama’s “combination of process talk and populist rhetoric was rather unusual,” in that he “managed to reflect Clintonian populism while at the same time still sounding like himself.”
Obama’s speech was also unusual in that he dealt directly with the mechanics of lawmaking. He used the word “bill” 13 times, more than it appeared in any of the twelve speeches Silver studied. Obama also referred to the Republicans 8 times and the Democrats 5 times. None of the other presidents had used either word more than twice.
Three more words that stood out in Obama’s speech were “business” (or “businesses”), which he used 29 times, beating Clinton’s 10 mentions from 1994; “invest” (or its variations) 18 times to Clinton’s 8 times; and “deficit”, 14 times to Ronald Reagan’s 12 uses in 1982.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Obama's SOTU: Clintonian, In a Good Way (by Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight)


Turkeyvulture 10 years ago
How could the word “I” be left out? The Vanity and Chief used that 96 times. That has to be some kind of unbreakable record…isn’t it?

Leave a comment