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Housing in The State of the Union Address

A Review of the Text

Stuart Quinn    |    Housing Policy

Every year the President delivers the State of the Union as required by Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution, and on January 12, 2016, President Obama continued this 200-plus-year-old tradition. The Administration has made it clear that despite the President’s endowed authority to give one more speech in January of 2017, this will be his last State of the Union Address. Would the President deviate from the normal remarks? How influential would the topic of housing be for the President who had to navigate one of the most devastating housing crises in recent history?

The State of the Union is an ambitious exercise in attempting to outline extensive and complex policy goals that can be easily understood and consumed by everyday Americans, in roughly an hour of time. After conducting a textual analysis of all the State of the Union addresses delivered as speeches from Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) in 1964 through George W. Bush’s 2008 speech, we discovered the high-level promotional remarks and policy buzzwords you would expect. Government, congress, economy, tax, budget, health, education, security, energy and jobs top the list as the 75 most frequently used words in the State of the Union Address [Figure One]. Further, we see that Obama’s remarks did not deviate too far from his predecessors’ when it comes to the State of the Union.1

What About Housing?

In the three months preceding Obama’s first inauguration, both net new jobs and home prices were careening downwards, two factors that influenced his first address on February 24, 2009. In Figure Two, we can see that these housing or financial services terms are referenced nearly 45 times throughout the 50-minute speech. As the great recession continues to subside so too does the frequency of these housing-related terms in the President’s remarks. In fact, the same terms only appeared nine times in the 2015 State of the Union [Figure Two].2

Housing Terms in President Obama State of Union Speeches

Housing Terms in President Obama State of Union Speeches

Taking a step back, it would seem that treatment of housing in State of the Union remarks is a relatively bipartisan issue. Since LBJ’s address, we found that the term ‘housing’ was cited a total of 140 times — 78 of which were made by Democratic Presidents and 62 of which were made by Republicans. It should be noted that viewing the data only through the singular term may not fully represent the intent of the remarks, and further, this data is somewhat skewed given that Republicans have delivered 27 speeches and Democrats only 23 since 1964 (excluding 2016 remarks).

Overall, there seems to be a strong intersection of terms used by both parties. When examining the 75 most frequently used words by party, there was an overlap of 59 words and only 16 unique words for each party. After all, they are speaking to the entire country with the objective of garnering support for the ideas they intend to pursue in the year ahead. So even though the approach may vary, the words to outline the agenda set forth by the President – Democrat or Republican – are strikingly similar [Figure Three].

Top 75 Most Frequent Term Not Shared By Both Parties

Top 75 Most Frequent Term Not Shared By Both Parties

[1]1John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters. The American Presidency Project., Santa Barbara, CA, 1999 – 2016. Note: Data from files hosted above, analysis conducted by author. All speeches are included and those delivered as written are excluded. Those not considered formal State of the Union (i.e. Obama 2009), are included. Additional common English words have been removed for cleaner analysis.

[2]The dots in figure two represent the sibilant or derivative terms of the first word on the x-axis. E.g. bank.s is the equivalent to the combined search terms ‘bank’ and ‘banks.’ An analysis of the words found the singular of ‘house’ and ‘home’ be associated more frequently with the legislative body (speaker of the ‘house’), a servicemembers return ‘home’, ‘home’ front or those viewing at ‘home’ and were therefore excluded from this analysis.

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