Feb. 2, 2005
Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that the President
... shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them ....
George Washington gave his first Annual Message on January 8, 1790. Tonight, just over 214 years later, George W. Bush gave his fifth State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people.
Although modern State of the Union Addresses are produced by teams of writers, it is safe to assume that the final speeches are carefully vetted and approved by the President, a process that makes the Address a good target for analysis. As one friend put it: “Since it’s so obvious that the speech is ruthlessly curated before presentation, it’s interesting to note how often and where certain features appear.”
Rather than discuss the style or presentation of the Address, I’d like to take a comparative graphic look at two easily-measured features: sentence length and word incidence.
In a hurry? Go directly to the State of the Union Parsing Tool.
This table shows sentence count, word count, and average number of words per sentence in the transcripts1 of George W. Bush’s State of the Union Addresses, as well as his special Address to Congress following the attacks of September 11th:
|1st Address to a Joint Session of Congress
Feb 27, 2001
|Special Address to Congress
Sept 20, 2001
|1st State of the Union Address
Jan 29, 2002
Jan 28, 2003
Jan 20, 2004
Feb 2, 2005
|Average words per sentence||15.8||16.4||17.9||18.9||18.7||21.4|
To put these numbers in historical context, this chart compares Bush’s fifth address with four additional State of the Union Addresses:
5th Annual Message
Dec 3, 1793
1st Annual Message
Dec 3, 1861
Feb 6, 1985
|William J. Clinton
Feb 4, 1997
|George W. Bush
Feb 2, 2005
|Average words per sentence||34.6||32.6||13.9||15.4||21.4|
One way to visually represent each speech is to treat each word as a block (), and each sentence as a row of blocks ().
Stacked vertically, the first 15 sentences of George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address tonight look like this:
Using smaller blocks to represent each word, the entire speech looks like this:
Within this visual framework, specific words or phrases can be represented in at least two ways, by highlighting the word itself, or by highlighting the entire sentence that the word appears in. This chart highlights in red the 17 sentences in Bush’s speech tonight that contain the word “freedom”:
To search for your own words or phrases, or to compare the occurrence of two words in Bush’s State of the Union Addresses, please try the State of the Union Parsing Tool. A good places to start is freedom and liberty.