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Words of the States (ala States of the States)

This week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards became the last of the 50 governors to deliver a state of the state address for 2017.

Over the last three and a half months, we’ve read though 49 state of the state transcripts, or an equivalent speech, which is occasionally labeled differently.  (We couldn’t find a transcript for Kentucky.) We do this every year because it gives us a good sense of  governors’ goals, their major challenges and how they view the accomplishments of the last year.

This year, we created word clouds for each speech, with the assistance of For the uninitiated, word clouds pull out the most often used words in selected text, providing a visual guide to the frequency of use by the size of the word. Our word clouds picked up the 50 frequently repeated words in each speech.

We’ve provided our readers with an interactive map in our Resources section that will enable them to find the word cloud for each governor’s speech. We strongly suggest that you take a look. These infographics aren’t just informative, they’re fun. The direct link is here.

It is interesting to see which words show up, as well as which words don’t.

Our mostly-just-for-fun analysis of our 49 word clouds, show the words “work” and “jobs” appear as the biggest and boldest words most frequently (aside, of course, from the actual names of the states). Education, schools, teachers and students are up there as well. Children or kids were among the most dominant words in Alabama, Texas and New Mexico. Maine is the only state in which “elderly” appeared as a dominant word, though “seniors” was also a dominant word in Pennsylvania.

Climate is among the most dominant words in the January speech of Gov. Jerry Brown. For other governors, it didn’t even appear in the top 50 list. Immigration also appears as one of the top words in California and does not appear in the top 50 for any other state.

While multiple governors talked about substance abuse, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s speech stood out with the following words showing up in his word cloud:  addiction, drug, families and treatment.

Tax was a prominent word in many speeches, including the one delivered this week by Gov. Edwards, who used his state of the state to call out the pressing need for reform (another repeated word). Other words in the Louisiana word cloud, which is pictured on this page, connect with the difficulties of the state’s current fiscal situation including “cuts”, “reduce”, “challenges” and “budget”.

Reading through the transcript of Gov. Edwards speech, we saw another repeated theme of the year – the exhortation to work together. “I refuse to allow governing the state of Louisiana to look anything like what’s going on in Washington,” Gov. Edwards said on Monday.

The word “together” was among the top words used in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington. It appeared among the top 50 words in half the states, including Louisiana.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s speech last week was the state of the state that was most focused on the future and the many transitions that are taking place in today’s world. Two of the most dominant words in his speech were “Think” and “Change.”

“Health” was the single most dominant word in only one speech this year. Interestingly, this was in the state of the state given by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who alarmed his audience by collapsing toward the end of his January talk. (His chief of staff quickly released word that he was okay, though Gov. Dayton does have health problems, including a diagnosis of prostate cancer, which was revealed the following day.)

Medicaid was one of the top 50 words in only Louisiana and Georgia.

A couple of caveats, when you look at individual state of the state word clouds. There are a series of words that are frequently used that don’t reveal much. Common words like “people” and “year” often show up in big bold type.  The frequency of the word “budget” is somewhat affected by the fact that in some states, the state of the state address doubles as the governor’s budget address. But it also shows up predictably in states with current fiscal stress including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Kansas, Nebraska and a handful of states with diminished oil and gas revenues such as Alaska, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Wyoming.

One more word of caution. We know it’s somewhat risky relying on transcripts as they are most frequently prepared remarks and may be changed by governors who veer away from what’s written when they actually deliver their speech.


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