State of the Union 2014 – Differences with 2013?

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The State of the Union address is always a highly analysed political event. Most commentators discuss the number of rounds of applause the President received, or the number of mentions of a political theme. However, this is rarely put in context with other years. How does the language of this year’s speech compare with last year’s?

At Relative.ai we specialise in comparing language from different Brands and the language their customers use. By understanding the differences between competitor language, or between language used by different customers, our clients make the most of their communications. So it’s important to know what you are saying, and how it fits in context.

So turning to politics, we thought it would be fun to have a look at the State of the Union as a great comparison example. How does the State of the Union change over time? Is it radically different from last year? Here are the results:

This graph shows the differences in words between the 2014 speech and ‘standard’ English use. As you can see key topics appear: America, Americans, jobs, business and Iran all feature prominently.

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Now let’s look at concepts and themes: Work and employment features highly as you may expect. Lots of pro-nouns are used to personalise the communication (I, you, we, his, her, our, etc). Government, business, pay, emphasis on necessity (must, will, have to) all feature strongly as well.

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So all in all, these are clear themes emerging when you are comparing the text to standard English use. But what if you compare one speech to another? Here are the differences in word use between the 2014 and 2013 speeches:

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As you can see, there are far fewer statistically significant differences. Only 15 words (ones with positive values) are used significantly more than in the 2013 speech; such as: his, help, insurance, Iran, workforce, unemployment, diplomacy community. Even fewer words (6) are used significantly more in the 2013 speech (those with negative values): cost, reduction, would, idea, task, must.

And let’s look at the differences in concepts or themes:

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There are no real differences in overall concepts or themes or language style between the two speeches. In other words, the style and overall concepts discussed didn’t change from year to year. There is only one statistical significant difference with one concept (Hot/Fire/Blaze) referred to more in the 2013 address due to the heatwave and wildfires in 2012.

Now this doesn’t mean that the lack of differences is a bad thing. Continuity can be a powerful tool when putting over a message. However, having an awareness of how you actual compare to other relevant communications is no bad thing either. Whether it’s what you said in the past, the style change, or whether you are similar to your competition, the right comparison can be revealing.

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Ben Hookway

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