Buzzword correlations

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I haven't had a chance to do any analysis of last night SOTU address, but Nate Silver has some interesting observations about the matrix of word-count comparisons to other such addresses over recent decades.

[Update: and more here from Jamie Pennebaker.]

[Update 2: discussion of computational models of standing ovations by Dan Katz, including a link to a NetLogo applet.]

[Update 3: for a discussion of the actual content, see James Fallows in the Atlantic.]

[Update 4, taking the prize -- the Daily Show.]

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9 Comments »

  1. Mark P said,

    January 28, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

    Interpreting the matrices really requires that you be at least somewhat familiar with the issues that the presidents faced. It's possible to over interpret this kind of thing, but it's definitely interesting.

  2. Not My Leg said,

    January 28, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

    A caution about the results. His rhetorical analysis suggests that Obama and Kennedy are the least comparable presidents in terms of rhetoric (tied with Obama and Bush 1). Kennedy is most comparable with Bush 2.

    These results seem entirely out of whack with what one would expect.

    On the other hand, there is a high degree of correlation between the two speeches given by two term presidents. Nixon and Clinton are more highly correlated with themselves than anyone else, and Bush 2 is close (.70 v. .72). This indicates that the model is at least measuring something about the speaker, although the sample size here is small.

    The odd deviation here is Reagan, whose two speeches are less correlated with each other than with 12 other speeches. It is arguable, however, that Reagan was a significantly different president in his second term than his first.

    My conclusion; it's interesting, but don't read too much into it.

  3. Not My Leg said,

    January 28, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    I overstated that a little.

    It's interesting, and probably says something, but I'm not sure what .

  4. Chris said,

    January 28, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    I'm suspicious of Silver's analysis, for a variety of reasons I outline here. Basically, all he does is count a few arbitrary words and then compares them across different speeches. Considering his usual level of detail and rigor, I found this simplistic and misleading. It's just a variation on the specious Obama uses the first person pronoun I more than other people argument that you and other LLers have discussed before.

    [(myl) That's a little unfair to Nate Silver, I think. Among the folks who pushed the Obama-overuses-I meme, only one actually counted anything, and he just counted Obama's uses, without making any quantitative comparisons to other analogous speeches by other politicians. Your criticisms of Silver's word selections are valid -- it would be better to have some criterion other than "this smallish set of words seemed appropriate to me" -- but at least he did actual counts and compared them across SOTU addresses.]

  5. Kylopod said,

    January 28, 2010 @ 5:10 pm

    I thought the conclusion of this site was that Obama uses the first-person pronoun less often than his predecessors. (It was a response to George Will who carelessly pointed out the number of I's in one of Obama's speeches without bothering to compare it to the speeches of earlier presidents.)

    [(myl) Roughly, yes: here, here, here, here, here, here, here.]

  6. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 11:42 am

    I wonder whether anyone has run the Obama SOTU speech through Mark V. Shaney. Might be illuminating as well as entertaining.

  7. Michael W said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    Per your suggestion, Dan (using http://www.yisongyue.com/shaney/index.php and http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-state-union-address ) :

    # A new decade stretches before us.
    # That's why -– for the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to follow the House Republicans.
    # These disagreements, about the role of government spending when so many Americans.
    # Home values have declined.
    # (Applause.) But the truth is, these steps won't make up for the first time in history -– (applause) — companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give rebates to Americans who have increased their own commitments, and who will come together and finish the job for the first order of business this year, we've broken through the streets of Iran; why we will work within a budget surplus of over $200 billion.
    # They're putting more emphasis on math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future was anything but certain.
    # The toughest to read are those who start a nest egg.
    # Now, let me repeat: We cut taxes for small businesses.
    # We're working with Muslim communities around the world to promote regional peace and harmony — (laughter) — when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate to follow the House has passed a jobs bill on my watch, we'll still face the massive deficit we had record surpluses in the 1990s.
    # We can't allow financial institutions, including those that are deeply entrenched.

    About what you'd expect – more bizarrely amusing than revealing.

  8. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

    "The toughest to read are those who start a nest egg."

    I couldn't have said it better myself.

  9. Graeme said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 8:49 am

    Hocus pocus Potus Sotu.

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