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. [show-map id=’2′]

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. [show-map id=’3′]

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. [show-map id=’4′]

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.

Me, Myself, and I: Democrats vs Republicans

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
21 Aug 2014 | 10:38AM

There are few more brightly lit intersections between language and leadership than State of the State season. Each January through March, America’s governors enter the spotlight to tout successes, downplay failures, and set priorities for the year ahead. This is the first of a series of posts leading up to the 2014 elections, using these speeches to analyze which politicians say what and why.

“I’m gearing up to win as many governors races as I can this November.”

That’s a remarkable quote. Not for its depth or insight or shock value, but for its sheer impossibility.

No one can win multiple governors races at once. And the man who said it, Chris Christie, isn’t even on any ballots this November. But the New Jersey governor chairs the Republican Governors Association, where his job is to ensure that his party’s gubernatorial candidates (who actually are on the ballot) win.

Even when Christie’s reference make sense, his word choice is still remarkable. The RGA chair’s counterpart at the Democratic Governors Association, Peter Shumlin of Vermont, is more pluralistic in his bluster: “We’ve got a great story to tell,” he proclaimed in a ranging interview last year, avoiding the Mr. Rogers-esque “I’ve got a great story to tell.”

Sure, Christie has a reputation as a me-first pol. But does the Great Pronoun Divide go deeper than just Christie and Shumlin? Do Republicans and Democrats differ in how they use even the smallest words in their vocabulary? An analysis of governors’ State of the State speeches says yes.

Republican governors say I, me, my, and mine almost 40% more often than Democratic governors do.

This chart plots governors by how often they used “I” words (I, me, my, and mine; on the horizontal axis) and “we” words (we, us, our, and ours; on the vertical axis) in their 2014 State of the State speeches. For example, in Maryland governor Martin O’Malley’s speech, 0.97% of the words were “I” words and 5.94% were “we” words.

[visualizer id=”2341″]

You can mouse over the points to explore the data and find your own governor. (Note that seven governors didn’t deliver State of the State speeches in 2014; their legislatures were in recess.) Three things to focus on:

  1. The pattern: This data tracks theorypolls, and conventional wisdom, which all hold that Democrats are more likely to value collectivism (“we”) and Republicans are more likely to value individualism (“I”). A cluster of seven Democratic governors dominates the upper-left of the chart, using fewer “I” words and more “we” words than their peers. On the other hand, of the eight speeches that used “I” words more than 2% of the time, six were given by Republicans and only two by Democrats — and one of those Democrats, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, used to be a Republican.
  2. The lack of a pattern: There’s definitely a difference between how Democratic and Republican governors use “I” words and “we” words. But the difference isn’t so stark as to draw a clear dividing line between blue and red. Congressional voting records, for example, are much more polarized than language is here.
  3. Specific governors: Some of the extremes offer interesting, if unscientific, windows into governors’ personalities. Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, the scrupulous conciliator, uses “I” words least often; Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, the policy wonk, uses few personal pronouns at all.

Of course, no political research is complete until it’s been misconstrued for partisan advantage.

These results don’t conclusively show that one party’s governors are better than the other’s. But for those interested in spinning these results to confirm their own positions anyway, enjoy this handy interpretation table:

You would like to interpret these results as a… Democratic governors… Republican governors…
Partisan Democrat Consider their constituents first, before thinking of themselves Are selfish autocrats who govern without concern for others
Partisan Republican Refuse to take accountability for their jobs, shifting the emphasis to others Take personal responsibility for the outcomes of their administrations
Neutral observer Tend to use singular first-person pronouns less than Republicans Tend to use singular first-person pronouns more than Democrats

 

This is the first of a series of posts leading up to the 2014 elections, using State of the State speeches to analyze which politicians say what and why. 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.