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UPDATED: The State of the Union, by the Numbers

What did you think of the State of the Union?

by Countable | 2.5.19

UPDATE — February 6, 2019: Last night, President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union speech. As anticipated, he discussed matters of immigration, the economy, and health care.

Indeed, Trump talked about immigration more than any president since Jimmy Carter, according to analysis from our partners at USAFacts, a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative aimed at making government data accessible and understandable. USAFacts has contextualized every State of the Union address since 1980, turning the speeches into data and analyzing the words to see how often topics like healthcare, war, and the economy have been featured each year. They overlaid the results with government data related to the issue.

The graph below shows the frequency with which a president mentioned something related to immigration (the bars), juxtaposed with the number of visas granted at the time (the solid line).

Source: USAFacts

While Trump continued to push for the construction of a wall on the southern border with Mexico, he stopped short of declaring a national emergency to achieve his aim.

Trump devoted less of his speech to the topic of taxes than many had expected, considering that he views last year's tax cuts as a strong success. The graph below shows mentions of taxes (the bars) with the top individual tax rate (the solid line).

Source: USAFacts

Eliminating HIV and AIDS

The president announced a plan to eliminate the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)—the virus that causes Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)—in ten years.

According to USAFacts, the spread of HIV peaked in the mid-1980s, as the U.S. had an estimated 130,400 new cases in both 1984 and 1985. New HIV diagnoses have been on the decline since 2006, largely owing to an increase in testing and the uptake of antiretroviral drugs. In 2017, 38,281 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with HIV.

Death rates have also been declining since their peak, as the graph below shows.

Source: USAFacts

Countable's original article from February 5, 2019 is below.

  • Tonight at 9:00 p.m. EST, President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver his second State of the Union address. Watch it and comment live here.
  • The speech was originally scheduled for last month, but was postponed because of the partial government shutdown.

SOTU in Context

This wasn’t the first time in history the State of the Union was delayed: President Reagan moved the 1986 address in the wake of the Challenger disaster.

Speaking of historical context, our partners at USAFacts—a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative aimed at making government data accessible and understandable—have contextualized every State of the Union address from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump, turning the speeches into data and analyzing the words of each address to see how often topics like healthcare, war, and the economy have been featured each year.

Readers will note that USAFacts shows two years of speeches for Trump already. This reflects his 2017 address to a joint session of Congress, which is not technically a State of the Union address but still serves much of the same role as a gauge of a president’s policy priorities.

According to USAFacts:

“President Trump focused on immigration in his first two speeches, focusing on immigration enforcement and border security as well as plans to shift legal immigration toward a merit-based system. President George W. Bush also had parts of speeches focus on border security and immigration reform in his final years as president.”

USAFacts created a fascinating data visualization tool to show how a president’s mention of a topic lined up with relevant data at the time. For instance, the graph below shows the frequency with which a president mentioned something related to immigration (the bars), juxtaposed with the actual number of undocumented people in the country at the time (the solid line). Users can also toggle to see the chart with data on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, border patrol agents, and number of visas issued.

Source: USAFacts

There have been reports that Trump will discuss immigration in his speech tonight.

This year, Trump is also expected to announce a plan to stop HIV transmission by 2030. The USAFacts data show that discussion of health care in State of the Union addresses has varied significantly over time, from practically no mentions during the Reagan era to 31 references during Bill Clinton’s unsuccessful push for healthcare reform. George W. Bush’s presidency began with a promise to double Medicare’s budget and explore tax credits to help the uninsured find coverage, while Barack Obama’s first address promised more substantial change, laying the groundwork for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Trump’s 2017 address outlined a plan to repeal and replace the ACA. That plan was ultimately unsuccessful, but the president has continued to focus on health care reform, and is likely to take up the issue tonight.

The graph below shows mentions of health care in States of the Union (the bars) alongside health care expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic product (the solid line). Users can also see the graph with metrics on insurance coverage, both public and private.

Source: USAFacts

It seems likely that Trump will address economic matters tonight, even though his 2017 and 2018 speeches made scant reference to the economy itself. Those speeches did, however, make numerous references to taxes, trade, and jobs. Historically, almost every State of the Union has focused on the economy, from Reagan’s 1983 warnings about inflation to Clinton’s 1993 promise to “make our economy thrive again” to George W. Bush’s 2001 call to keep government spending in line with economic growth. The economy was also a central focus of Obama’s first State of the Union.

Many observers expect Trump to focus on the economy as a strong suit in his presidency. The Hill notes:

“The economy is the president’s biggest selling point. The January jobs report and uptick in the market infuse new optimism into his message. If he can announce some major breakthrough in trade negotiations with China, the one fly in the economic ointment, he can hit another home run.”

The New York Times echoes the sentiment:

“Mr. Trump will most likely talk about a robust economy, a low rate of unemployment, a tax cut he credits with spurring growth and his push to roll back federal regulations on business. Many economists say that the tax cut provided only a temporary stimulus, but few can argue with the continued growth in jobs, now at 100 straight months, or the unemployment rate, which was 4 percent in January.”

The graph below shows historical mentions of the economy (the bars) alongside the performance of the S&P500 stock index (the solid line).

Source: USAFacts

USAFacts will update its website to reflect Trump’s speech tonight, and we’ll bring the latest to you here.

What do you think?

What topics do you hope to hear the president address tonight? Tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: Riordan KJ / Creative Commons)


Written by Countable

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