What Governors Want

What Governors Want
Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
23 Oct 2014 | 4:06PM

There are few more brightly lit intersections between language and leadership than State of the State season. Each January through April, America’s governors enter the spotlight to tout successes, downplay failures, and set priorities for the year ahead. This is the second in a series of posts using these speeches to analyze which politicians say what and why.

Governors talk about Jobs when they’re in close elections, Education when their schools are improving, and Healthcare when they’re mad at the President.

Who knew it was that easy? In What Women Want, Mel Gibson had to endure electrocution in order to read minds. For those watching America’s governors this election season, all we need to penetrate their psyche is their own words.

These interactive maps show how often governors mentioned Jobs, Education, and Healthcare in their 2014 State of the State speeches. For example, Jobs words (including job, jobs, employment, and others) accounted for 0.05% of the total words in California Governor Jerry Brown’s speech. You can mouse over the maps to explore the data and find your own governor.

Governors facing close re-election races are more likely to discuss Jobs.

Although State of the State season starts ten months from election day, there’s evidence that governors are looking ahead to tough campaigns when crafting their speeches. For both Democrats and Republicans, focusing on jobs is a time-tested strategy to reach undecided voters and avoid divisive social issues.


Blog - SOTS2 - Jobs

Governors facing toss-up re-election contests use Jobs words 26% more often than other governors. Of the four most Jobs-heavy speeches, three were given by governors — Scott Walker (R-WI, 1.57%), Rick Scott (R-FL, 1.21%), and Dan Malloy (D-CT, 1.00%) — who are facing toss-up races, according to the Cook and Rothenberg Political Reports.

Governors with improving school systems are more likely to discuss Education.

On this issue, the star pupils are eager to brag about their high marks. The more a state improved its Education Week Chance for Success rating from January 2013 to January 2014, the more often that state’s governor used Education words in his or her 2014 speech. In addition to the map, check out this scatter plot to see the relationship between 2013 school improvements and 2014 State of the State speeches.


Blog - SOTS2 - Education

Tennessee students improved the fastest in Education Week‘s scoring, then heard one of the nation’s most Education-heavy speeches from Bill Haslam (R-TN, 1.70%). Governors like Mike Pence (R-IN, 2.00%), Sean Parnell (R-AK, 1.92%), and Mark Dayton (D-MN, 1.69%) also rank near the top in both their state’s educational improvement  and their speech’s Education words.

Governors opposed to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, are more likely to discuss Healthcare.

Healthcare featured only lightly in 2014’s State of the State season, and was altogether absent from four speeches. But for some governors, mentioning healthcare was enough to raise their blood pressure. Republican governors, who are generally opposed to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, used Healthcare words 46% more often than Democratic governors. And among Republicans, those who rejected Obamacare’s state-based Medicaid expansion were 56% more likely to discuss Healthcare than those who accepted the expansion. 


Blog - SOTS2 - Healthcare

The top two Healthcare-heavy speeches, by Dave Heineman (R-NE, 0.83%) and Robert Bentley (R-AL, 0.71%), each included a full-throated rejection of the ACA Medicaid expansion. Heineman thundered, “President Obama and his White House political operatives are trying to pressure Nebraska into expanding Medicaid, but Nebraska will not be intimidated by the Obama administration.”

Leading up to November’s election and to January’s 2015 State of the State season, I’ll continue this series of analyses. In the meantime, share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions for what gubernatorial mind-reading we might try next.

The data used in this study is available here (Excel file) and — if you have a lot of time on your hands — the text of these speeches is available here.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

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Posted on: October 23, 2014
Posted by: Adam

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