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A Content Analysis of Barack Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address

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Obama's statements on education and technology rose compared to his 2010 Address, while statements on the economy and health care declined

For his second consecutive State of the Union speech, and third annual address before Congress, domestic policy dominated Barack Obama's nationally televised speech Tuesday night.

But while there was no notable change along the domestic-foreign policy dyad, there were significant differences regarding which domestic policies Obama featured in his address this year.

A Smart Politics content analysis finds that 65.9 percent of Obama's remarks Tuesday night focused on domestic policy (257 sentences) - virtually identical to 2010 (65.3 percent).

Foreign policy statements constituted just 15.6 percent of Obama's speech (61 sentences), compared to 13.9 percent in 2010.

Another 18.5 percent centered on non-policy remarks, largely focused on statements celebrating the 'American dream.'

General Policy Areas Discussed in Barack Obama's Annual Addresses Before Congress, 2009-2011

Policy area
2009
2010
2011
Domestic
76.1
65.3
65.9
Foreign
10.3
13.9
15.6
Other (non-policy)
13.6
20.7
18.5
Denotes percentage of policy areas discussed as measured by number of sentences. Speeches coded are Barack Obama's February 24, 2009 Address before a Joint Session of Congress, January 27, 2010 State of the Union Address, and January 25, 2011 State of the Union Address. Content analysis by Smart Politics.

President Obama spent the plurality of his speech discussing education policy, devoting 52 sentences, or 13.3 percent of his speech to that policy area.

That marks a more than threefold increase from 2010 when he talked about education for just 4.2 percent of his speech.

The President also peppered his speech with a large dose of discussing the importance of technology and innovation, which comprised 7.7 percent of his speech (30 sentences) - up from just 4 sentences in both 2010 (0.9 percent) and 2009 (1.2 percent).

Although issues related to government spending, the federal deficit, and the federal debt played a key role in the 2010 GOP landslide, the President did not significantly draw more attention to these issues as compared to his previous annual addresses before Congress.

On Tuesday, 11.5 percent of Obama's speech focused on issues related to spending, deficits, and the debt, up only slightly from 2010 (9.5 percent) but down slightly from his February 2009 Address before a Joint Session of Congress (12.5 percent).

Spending, deficit, and debt issues played a prominent role in the GOP rebuttal delivered by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Also receiving less air-time from Obama in this year's Address were statements related to the economy and jobs.

Although the national unemployment rate is down just 0.3 percentage points from his speech one year ago - from 9.7 to 9.4 percent - the amount of attention the President spent on this domestic policy area dropped from 17.2 percent to 11.0 percent.

Having seen his health care reform already signed into law last year - and in the face of its lingering unpopularity with approximately half of the country - Obama spent only 3.3 percent of his speech on health care issues, down from 7.4 percent in 2010 and 9.3 percent in his February 2009 address before Congress.

On the foreign policy front there was virtually no difference in the amount of time the President devoted to several important concerns compared to his first State of the Union speech: 1.8 percent of Obama's statements on Tuesday focused on the war in Afghanistan compared to 1.6 percent in 2010, 2.1 percent centered on terrorism versus 2.3 percent in 2010, and 0.8 percent on Iraq compared to 1.4 percent in 2010.

By comparison, President Bush spent 56 percent of his final State of the Union speech in 2008 discussing foreign policy issues - or nearly five times that of Obama.

Issues Discussed in Barack Obama's Annual Addresses Before Congress, 2009-2011

Issue
2009
2010
2011
Education
12.1
4.2
13.3
American dream / spirit
0.4
7.2
12.3
Deficit / debt / spending
12.5
9.5
11.5
Economy / jobs
10.0
17.2
11.0
Technology
0.4
0.9
7.7
Bi-partisanship
1.8
6.7
5.1
Energy
7.8
3.3
5.1
Taxes
2.8
4.9
4.1
Transportation
1.4
0.5
3.8
Health care
9.3
7.4
3.3
Immigration
0.0
0.2
2.6
Freedom & Democracy
0.0
0.7
2.3
Terrorism
2.1
2.3
2.1
Trade
0.4
1.9
1.8
Afghanistan
0.7
1.6
1.8
Lobbyists / Trust in Gov't
0.0
4.7
1.3
Gay rights
0.0
0.2
1.0
Veterans / Troops
2.1
1.2
1.0
Nuclear weapons
0.0
0.9
0.8
Iraq
0.7
1.4
0.8
Entitlements (Medicare/SS)
1.4
0.9
0.5
Iran
0.0
0.7
0.3
Foreign aid
0.0
0.9
0.3
Environment
0.0
0.5
0.3
Financial system / banks
17.8
7.2
0.0
Housing
2.1
0.9
0.0
Other
14.4
11.7
5.9
Denotes percentage of issues discussed as measured by number of sentences. Speeches coded are Barack Obama's February 24, 2009 Address before a Joint Session of Congress, January 27, 2010 State of the Union Address, and January 25, 2011 State of the Union Address. Content analysis by Smart Politics.

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