Skip to main content
Menu
The State Of The State Of The States

Whether it’s a groundbreaking experiment of conservative or liberal thought or “merely” tending to the bread-and-butter issues that touch residents’ lives, the states are where the policymaking magic happens. And because of the different roles played by the state and federal governments, what’s happening in the states can vary pretty substantially from what’s being discussed on the national level. So we decided to burst out of the bubble of the national 2020 campaign and take a look at what state leaders were talking about.

At the beginning of the year, each governor lays out their policy priorities in their version of the State of the Union address — a “state of the state” address.1 We conducted a text analysis of all 50 governors’ 2019 state of the state speeches to see what issues were talked about the most and whether there were differences between what Democratic and Republican governors were focusing on. Specifically, we broke down the speeches into one-, two- and three-word phrases (like “school” or the “Affordable Care Act”)2 and divided the most commonly used ones into thematic buckets.

We found that the three most dominant issues were education, health care and the economy — although Democratic and Republican governors didn’t always approach them in the same way. There were also interesting partisan differences in how governors talked about some other issues, including the environment, crime and justice, and mental health.

Education

The words “education” and “school” appeared in all 23 Democratic speeches and all 27 Republican ones. But that doesn’t mean the two parties focused on the same aspects of education. To suss out those differences, we ran a statistical analysis3 to determine how significantly terms were associated with speeches from Democratic or Republican governors. And as you can see in the table below, some terms (e.g., “child care,” “kindergarten”) were more likely to be used in Democratic speeches, while others (e.g., “foster care,” “education workforce”) were more likely to be used in Republican speeches.

The partisan (and not so partisan) rhetoric on education

One-, two- and three-word phrases about education that appeared in governors’ 2019 state of the state speeches, by how often a phrase was used by Democratic and Republican governors

SHARE THAT INCLUDE PHRASE
Phrase
P-VALUE*
Dem. speeches
Rep. speeches
Diff
child care 0.02 39.1% 7.4% D+31.7
education need 0.00 30.4 0.0 D+30.4
kindergarten 0.07 47.8 18.5 D+29.3
early childhood 0.06 43.5 14.8 D+28.7
educational 0.12 21.7 48.2 R+26.4
students state 0.01 26.1 0.0 D+26.1
scholarships 0.10 13.0 37.0 R+24.0
graduate 0.22 56.5 33.3 D+23.2
learning 0.27 43.5 66.7 R+23.2
educators deserve 0.02 21.7 0.0 D+21.7
foster care 0.10 8.7 29.6 R+20.9
quality education 0.10 8.7 29.6 R+20.9
school district 0.10 8.7 29.6 R+20.9
graduates 0.19 17.4 37.0 R+19.7
teacher pay 0.19 17.4 37.0 R+19.7
early childhood education 0.13 30.4 11.1 D+19.3
graduation 0.24 21.7 40.7 R+19.0
education workforce 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
college tuition 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
schools year 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
special education 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
tuition 0.29 43.5 25.9 D+17.6
scholarship 0.27 17.4 33.3 R+15.9
teacher 0.51 52.2 66.7 R+14.5
best brightest 0.15 4.4 18.5 R+14.2
year degree 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
training programs 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
children future 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
community college 0.40 34.8 22.2 D+12.6
teachers 0.62 82.6 70.4 D+12.2
classroom 0.55 52.2 40.7 D+11.4
school districts 0.50 26.1 37.0 R+11.0
universities 0.50 26.1 37.0 R+11.0
school students 0.50 26.1 37.0 R+11.0
graduate high school 0.35 21.7 11.1 D+10.6
young children 0.35 21.7 11.1 D+10.6
bachelor degree 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
children foster care 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
school student 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
school boards 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
parents teachers 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
teacher pay raise 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
high school college 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
public schools 0.56 43.5 33.3 D+10.2
class education 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
world class education 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
dedicated teachers 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
high schools 0.35 8.7 18.5 R+9.8
teacher salaries 0.35 8.7 18.5 R+9.8
computer science 0.52 17.4 25.9 R+8.5
high school 0.74 69.6 77.8 R+8.2
superintendent 0.59 21.7 29.6 R+7.9
students 0.79 100.0 92.6 D+7.4
educators 0.72 43.5 37.0 D+6.4
university 0.77 56.5 63.0 R+6.4
early education 0.55 17.4 11.1 D+6.3
help students 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
colleges 0.73 39.1 33.3 D+5.8
day kindergarten 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
education opportunity 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
school buildings 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
funding education 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
state college 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
technical education 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
students parents 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
student debt 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
post secondary 0.63 13.0 18.5 R+5.5
middle school 0.63 13.0 18.5 R+5.5
local school 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
stem 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
math 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
public school 0.76 21.7 25.9 R+4.2
higher education 0.84 47.8 51.9 R+4.0
college 0.88 73.9 77.8 R+3.9
education funding 0.78 26.1 22.2 D+3.9
apprenticeship 0.80 21.7 18.5 D+3.2
schools 0.91 95.7 92.6 D+3.1
apprenticeship programs 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
college degree 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
education budget 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
education programs 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
good education 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
graduation rate 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
12 schools 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
local school districts 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
students like 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
students graduate 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
elementary school 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
colleges universities 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
schools need 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
classrooms 0.93 39.1 40.7 R+1.6
schools state 0.93 17.4 18.5 R+1.1
teaching 0.96 30.4 29.6 D+0.8
public education 0.96 30.4 29.6 D+0.8
12 education 0.97 21.7 22.2 R+0.5
elementary 0.97 21.7 22.2 R+0.5
community colleges 0.97 21.7 22.2 R+0.5
high school students 0.99 26.1 25.9 D+0.2
education 1.00 100.0 100.0 EVEN
school 1.00 100.0 100.0 EVEN

Excludes two- and three-word phrases that appeared in fewer than five speeches and single words that appeared in fewer than 10 speeches.

Includes all uses of a given phrase, even when it overlaps with another phrase. For example, “tuition” also counts the term “tuition” when it appears as part of “college tuition.”

*The p-value for a particular phrase is a measure of how unlikely it is that Democratic and Republican governors used the phrase with the same frequency. A lower p-value means that the partisanship of a phrase in our data set is more statistically distinguishable.

Sources: State websites, media outlets

Nationally, education has been an issue in the Democratic presidential race, with candidates promising free college tuition and to keep students out of debt. But on the state level, those ideas came up in only a handful of gubernatorial speeches — mostly Democratic ones.4 Democratic governors were more loquacious about another progressive priority, “early childhood education,” which was mentioned by seven Democratic governors and three Republican ones.

Health care

Another issue governors talked a lot about was health care — especially Democratic governors. That makes sense considering that health care was the No. 1 issue for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, which is when many of those Democratic governors were elected.

The partisan (and not so partisan) rhetoric on health care

One-, two- and three-word phrases about health care that appeared in governors’ 2019 state of the state speeches, by how often a phrase was used by Democratic and Republican governors

SHARE THAT INCLUDE PHRASE
Phrase
P-VALUE*
Dem. speeches
Rep. speeches
Diff
sick 0.01 39.1% 3.7% D+35.4
affordable care act 0.01 39.1 3.7 D+35.4
health care 0.25 100.0 70.4 D+29.6
healthy 0.15 60.9 33.3 D+27.5
expand medicaid 0.02 30.4 3.7 D+26.7
access health 0.06 30.4 7.4 D+23.0
reproductive health 0.02 21.7 0.0 D+21.7
pre existing conditions 0.02 21.7 0.0 D+21.7
cost health 0.02 21.7 0.0 D+21.7
existing conditions 0.02 21.7 0.0 D+21.7
hospital 0.19 43.5 22.2 D+21.3
medical 0.32 65.2 44.4 D+20.8
epidemic 0.17 39.1 18.5 D+20.6
dr 0.15 34.8 14.8 D+20.0
access health care 0.10 26.1 7.4 D+18.7
health outcomes 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
health insurance 0.29 43.5 25.9 D+17.6
hospitals 0.26 34.8 18.5 D+16.3
doctor 0.24 30.4 14.8 D+15.6
health care costs 0.21 26.1 11.1 D+15.0
affordable health care 0.18 21.7 7.4 D+14.3
expanded medicaid 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
healthier 0.37 26.1 14.8 D+11.3
public health 0.37 26.1 14.8 D+11.3
behavioral health 0.37 26.1 14.8 D+11.3
health services 0.57 30.4 22.2 D+8.2
health 0.79 100.0 92.6 D+7.4
medicaid 0.74 52.2 59.3 R+7.1
quality health care 0.55 17.4 11.1 D+6.3
medicaid program 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
children health 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
health crisis 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
health challenges 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
illness 0.80 21.7 18.5 D+3.2
health substance 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
medicaid expansion 0.93 17.4 18.5 R+1.1

Excludes two- and three-word phrases that appeared in fewer than five speeches and single words that appeared in fewer than 10 speeches.

Includes all uses of a given phrase, even when it overlaps with another phrase. For example, “health care” also counts the term “health care” when it appears as part of “health care costs.”

*The p-value for a particular phrase is a measure of how unlikely it is that Democratic and Republican governors used the phrase with the same frequency. A lower p-value means that the partisanship of a phrase in our data set is more statistically distinguishable.

Sources: State websites, media outlets

Democratic governors were more likely than Republican ones to utter almost every health care-related phrase we looked at. For instance, more Democratic governors (nine of them, or 39 percent) used the phrase “Affordable Care Act” (the health care law passed under former President Barack Obama) than Republican governors (one, or 4 percent). And four Democratic governors called for their states to “expand Medicaid” — all of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, in states with divided government (where the governor, state Senate and/or state House are controlled by different parties). This could be because Medicaid expansion has recently passed in several red states and is broadly popular, making it a fertile issue for bipartisan cooperation. Or it could be simply because every Democratic-controlled state has expanded Medicaid already.

Mostly missing, however, from all the health care talk was an endorsement of a single-payer health-insurance system — a major policy priority of some Democratic presidential candidates. Democrat Gavin Newsom of California was the only governor to mention “single payer” health care, or the idea that the government should pay for everyone’s health care with private insurance plans effectively eliminated, but he mentioned it only as a “long-term goal.” Likewise, only Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington urged his legislature to create a “public health option,” which would give people the ability to buy into a government-administered insurance plan. (His state went on this year to pass legislation that created this option.)

The economy

The third nearly ubiquitous issue in state of the state addresses was the economy. While rhetoric about jobs was bipartisan (“job” or “jobs” appeared in every speech), Republican and Democratic governors approached other aspects of economic policy differently.

The partisan (and not so partisan) rhetoric on the economy

One-, two- and three-word phrases about the economy that appeared in governors’ 2019 state of the state speeches, by how often a phrase was used by Democratic and Republican governors

SHARE THAT INCLUDE PHRASE
Phrase
P-VALUE*
Dem. speeches
Rep. speeches
Diff
minimum wage 0.00 39.1% 0.0% D+39.1
middle class 0.01 39.1 3.7 D+35.4
competitive 0.10 30.4 63.0 R+32.5
business community 0.01 34.8 3.7 D+31.1
economic success 0.01 34.8 3.7 D+31.1
income tax 0.09 21.7 51.9 R+30.1
small businesses 0.07 47.8 18.5 D+29.3
good jobs 0.04 39.1 11.1 D+28.0
rainy day 0.07 13.0 40.7 R+27.7
workers 0.24 78.3 51.9 D+26.4
wage 0.13 52.2 25.9 D+26.2
state income 0.01 0.0 25.9 R+25.9
doing business 0.01 0.0 25.9 R+25.9
savings 0.18 30.4 55.6 R+25.1
taxpayers 0.18 30.4 55.6 R+25.1
small business 0.11 43.5 18.5 D+25.0
financial 0.21 26.1 48.2 R+22.1
economy works 0.02 21.7 0.0 D+21.7
raising taxes 0.06 4.4 25.9 R+21.6
new jobs 0.19 43.5 22.2 D+21.3
surplus 0.14 13.0 33.3 R+20.3
fiscal 0.32 39.1 59.3 R+20.1
create jobs 0.15 34.8 14.8 D+20.0
employee 0.13 30.4 11.1 D+19.3
funds 0.38 47.8 66.7 R+18.8
revenue 0.38 47.8 66.7 R+18.8
good job 0.10 26.1 7.4 D+18.7
fully funding 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
state income tax 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
tax rates 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
savings account 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
changing economy 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
economy strong 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
fiscally responsible 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
federal funding 0.07 21.7 3.7 D+18.0
high demand 0.09 4.4 22.2 R+17.9
state budget 0.32 30.4 48.2 R+17.7
company 0.32 30.4 48.2 R+17.7
poverty 0.29 43.5 25.9 D+17.6
taxes 0.45 56.5 74.1 R+17.6
tax cut 0.15 8.7 25.9 R+17.2
growing economy 0.15 8.7 25.9 R+17.2
job training 0.24 30.4 14.8 D+15.6
working families 0.24 30.4 14.8 D+15.6
build new 0.21 26.1 11.1 D+15.0
taxpayer 0.38 26.1 40.7 R+14.7
private sector 0.38 26.1 40.7 R+14.7
costs 0.52 73.9 59.3 D+14.7
unemployment rate 0.42 47.8 33.3 D+14.5
strong economy 0.18 21.7 7.4 D+14.3
good paying jobs 0.18 21.7 7.4 D+14.3
tax 0.59 78.3 92.6 R+14.3
dignity work 0.15 4.4 18.5 R+14.2
job creators 0.15 4.4 18.5 R+14.2
budget provides 0.15 4.4 18.5 R+14.2
industries 0.42 30.4 44.4 R+14.0
millions dollars 0.42 43.5 29.6 D+13.9
unemployment rate lowest 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
state funding 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
general fund 0.23 8.7 22.2 R+13.5
wages 0.41 39.1 25.9 D+13.2
growth 0.57 60.9 74.1 R+13.2
employment 0.31 13.0 25.9 R+12.9
cost 0.61 87.0 74.1 D+12.9
taxpayer dollars 0.38 17.4 29.6 R+12.2
employees 0.62 82.6 70.4 D+12.2
hundreds millions dollars 0.39 30.4 18.5 D+11.9
budgets 0.44 21.7 33.3 R+11.6
economic growth 0.44 21.7 33.3 R+11.6
business 0.69 100.0 88.9 D+11.1
industry 0.62 52.2 63.0 R+10.8
business owners 0.35 21.7 11.1 D+10.6
new businesses 0.35 21.7 11.1 D+10.6
property taxes 0.35 21.7 11.1 D+10.6
economic impact 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
budget calls 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
government spending 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
tax reform 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
high demand jobs 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
lowest unemployment 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
tax cuts 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
high paying jobs 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
small business owners 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
opportunity zones 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
tax dollars 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
local businesses 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
make ends meet 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
jobs future 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
budget provide 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
grow economy 0.35 8.7 18.5 R+9.8
fully funded 0.35 8.7 18.5 R+9.8
rainy day fund 0.35 8.7 18.5 R+9.8
fund 0.71 91.3 81.5 D+9.8
debt 0.63 39.1 48.2 R+9.0
dollar 0.63 39.1 48.2 R+9.0
economic development 0.67 60.9 51.9 D+9.0
million dollars 0.52 17.4 25.9 R+8.5
pay raise 0.52 17.4 25.9 R+8.5
trade 0.57 26.1 18.5 D+7.6
budget 0.79 100.0 92.6 D+7.4
economic 0.79 100.0 92.6 D+7.4
paying jobs 0.64 26.1 33.3 R+7.2
workforce 0.76 73.9 66.7 D+7.2
spend 0.71 47.8 40.7 D+7.1
economic opportunity 0.57 21.7 14.8 D+6.9
funding 0.79 78.3 85.2 R+6.9
economy 0.80 95.7 88.9 D+6.8
billion dollars 0.69 30.4 37.0 R+6.6
career technical 0.55 17.4 11.1 D+6.3
federal funds 0.55 17.4 11.1 D+6.3
fiscal year 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
workforce training 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
jobs created 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
spend money 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
manufacturing 0.73 34.8 40.7 R+6.0
companies 0.79 65.2 59.3 D+6.0
careers 0.73 39.1 33.3 D+5.8
jobs state 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
goods services 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
jobs today 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
federal tax 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
new job 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
personal income 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
career technical education 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
corporate tax 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
budget state 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
economic recovery 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
tough times 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
state economy 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
fair share 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
build stronger 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
additional funding 0.63 13.0 18.5 R+5.5
advanced manufacturing 0.63 13.0 18.5 R+5.5
dollars 0.83 87.0 81.5 D+5.5
supply 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
salaries 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
hiring 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
money 0.85 82.6 77.8 D+4.8
employers 0.81 43.5 48.2 R+4.7
income 0.85 69.6 74.1 R+4.5
unemployment 0.84 52.2 48.2 D+4.0
entrepreneurs 0.78 26.1 22.2 D+3.9
spending 0.87 52.2 55.6 R+3.4
fiscally 0.80 21.7 18.5 D+3.2
tax credit 0.80 21.7 18.5 D+3.2
businesses 0.90 78.3 81.5 R+3.2
tax relief 0.82 17.4 14.8 D+2.6
business owner 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
capital investment 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
budget proposes 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
bond rating 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
billions dollars 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
business climate 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
job growth 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
jobs know 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
attract retain 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
balance budget 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
work budget 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
balanced budget 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
tax increase 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
paying job 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
new industries 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
market 0.90 39.1 37.0 D+2.1
labor 0.90 39.1 37.0 D+2.1
funded 0.90 39.1 37.0 D+2.1
budget includes 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
new taxes 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
fully fund 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
cut taxes 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
business leaders 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
property tax 0.87 13.0 14.8 R+1.8
open business 0.87 13.0 14.8 R+1.8
fastest growing 0.87 13.0 14.8 R+1.8
million dollar 0.87 13.0 14.8 R+1.8
budget proposal 0.87 13.0 14.8 R+1.8
career 0.95 65.2 66.7 R+1.5
tax code 0.93 17.4 18.5 R+1.1
capital 0.96 43.5 44.4 R+1.0
prosperity 0.96 43.5 44.4 R+1.0
low income 0.96 30.4 29.6 D+0.8
jobs 0.98 95.7 96.3 R+0.7
job 0.98 95.7 96.3 R+0.7
job creation 0.97 21.7 22.2 R+0.5
salary 0.97 21.7 22.2 R+0.5
innovation 0.99 47.8 48.2 R+0.3
workforce development 0.99 26.1 25.9 D+0.2
working 1.00 100.0 100.0 EVEN

Excludes two- and three-word phrases that appeared in fewer than five speeches and single words that appeared in fewer than 10 speeches.

Includes all uses of a given phrase, even when it overlaps with another phrase. For example, “tax” also counts the term “tax” when it appears as part of “income tax.”

*The p-value for a particular phrase is a measure of how unlikely it is that Democratic and Republican governors used the phrase with the same frequency. A lower p-value means that the partisanship of a phrase in our data set is more statistically distinguishable.

Sources: State websites, media outlets

For example, a greater share of Democratic governors mentioned the “middle class” and “workers” than GOP governors, who were more preoccupied with taxes: They were more likely than Democrats to bring up such phrases as “tax rates,” “income tax” and “tax cuts.” And while Republican and Democratic governors were roughly equally likely to mention “job creation,” more GOP leaders used the term “job creators” (five vs. one), keeping with their pro-business reputation.

The most partisan economic term in this year’s state of the state addresses was “minimum wage.” Democratic governors were the only ones to utter that phrase — and the nine who did so all spoke favorably of a higher minimum wage. Interestingly, eight of the nine were speaking to a friendly (i.e., Democratic) legislature, indicating how raising the minimum wage is a priority for Democratic-controlled states.

Energy and the environment

We found differences among Republican and Democratic speeches on other policy issues as well. One of the sharpest contrasts was on how governors talked about energy and the environment.

The partisan (and not so partisan) rhetoric on the environment

One-, two- and three-word phrases about energy and the environment that appeared in governors’ 2019 state of the state speeches, by how often a phrase was used by Democratic and Republican governors

SHARE THAT INCLUDE PHRASE
Phrase
P-VALUE*
Dem. speeches
Rep. speeches
Diff
climate change 0.00 56.5% 7.4% D+49.1
clean energy 0.00 47.8 3.7 D+44.1
climate 0.02 65.2 22.2 D+43.0
environment 0.04 17.4 51.9 R+34.5
carbon 0.03 34.8 7.4 D+27.4
energy future 0.02 21.7 0.0 D+21.7
natural resources 0.21 13.0 29.6 R+16.6
drinking water 0.18 21.7 7.4 D+14.3
environmental 0.42 43.5 29.6 D+13.9
public lands 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
air water 0.13 17.4 3.7 D+13.7
emissions 0.40 34.8 22.2 D+12.6
renewable energy 0.35 21.7 11.1 D+10.6
clean water 0.35 21.7 11.1 D+10.6
water quality 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
greenhouse gas 0.31 17.4 7.4 D+10.0
greenhouse gas emissions 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
oil 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
oil gas 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
energy 0.95 65.2 66.7 R+1.5

Excludes two- and three-word phrases that appeared in fewer than five speeches and single words that appeared in fewer than 10 speeches.

Includes all uses of a given phrase, even when it overlaps with another phrase. For example, “energy” also counts the term “energy” when it appears as part of “energy future.”

*The p-value for a particular phrase is a measure of how unlikely it is that Democratic and Republican governors used the phrase with the same frequency. A lower p-value means that the partisanship of a phrase in our data set is more statistically distinguishable.

SourcEs: State websites, media outlets

The phrase “climate change” appeared in 13 Democratic speeches but in just two Republican ones.5 There was a similar partisan split (11 to one) in calls for “clean energy.” By contrast, Republicans tended to framed their environmental goals around protecting “natural resources” (a phrase that appeared in eight GOP speeches and three Democratic ones).

Criminal justice

Criminal-justice reform seems to be one of the few remaining bipartisan issues these days, and, fittingly, the term “criminal justice” appeared in 13 Republican speeches and in 12 Democratic ones.

The partisan (and not so partisan) rhetoric on criminal justice

One-, two- and three-word phrases about criminal justice that appeared in governors’ 2019 state of the state speeches, by how often a phrase was used by Democratic and Republican governors

SHARE THAT INCLUDE PHRASE
Phrase
P-VALUE*
Dem. speeches
Rep. speeches
Diff
prison 0.01 21.7% 74.1% R+52.3
enforcement 0.03 21.7 63.0 R+41.2
law enforcement 0.03 21.7 63.0 R+41.2
gun violence 0.00 34.8 0.0 D+34.8
public safety 0.10 30.4 63.0 R+32.5
corrections 0.04 8.7 37.0 R+28.3
violence 0.13 52.2 25.9 D+26.2
gun safety 0.01 26.1 0.0 D+26.1
prisons 0.10 13.0 37.0 R+24.0
school safety 0.06 4.4 25.9 R+21.6
correctional 0.14 13.0 33.3 R+20.3
gun 0.15 34.8 14.8 D+20.0
attorney general 0.15 34.8 14.8 D+20.0
local law enforcement 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
schools safer 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
prison population 0.04 0.0 18.5 R+18.5
crime 0.28 26.1 44.4 R+18.4
violent 0.32 21.7 37.0 R+15.3
offenders 0.38 17.4 29.6 R+12.2
criminal 0.62 52.2 63.0 R+10.8
violent crime 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
non violent 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
police officer 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
law enforcement officers 0.45 13.0 22.2 R+9.2
police officers 0.53 13.0 7.4 D+5.6
criminal justice reform 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
victims 0.76 21.7 25.9 R+4.2
criminal justice 0.84 52.2 48.2 D+4.0
state police 0.82 17.4 14.8 D+2.6
violent offenders 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
recidivism rate 0.79 8.7 11.1 R+2.4
police 0.96 43.5 44.4 R+1.0

Excludes two- and three-word phrases that appeared in fewer than five speeches and single words that appeared in fewer than 10 speeches.

Includes all uses of a given phrase, even when it overlaps with another phrase. For example, “prison” also counts the term “prison” when it appears as part of “prison population.”

*The p-value for a particular phrase is a measure of how unlikely it is that Democratic and Republican governors used the phrase with the same frequency. A lower p-value means that the partisanship of a phrase in our data set is more statistically distinguishable.

Sources: State websites, media outlets

But Republican governors also lived up to their party’s historical “tough on crime” reputation, at least through their rhetoric. For instance, they were far more likely to nod to “public safety,” a phrase used by 17 GOP governors but seven Democrats. And while 17 Republicans mentioned “law enforcement” in their state of the state addresses, only five Democrats did. Republicans also talked more about “prisons” and “corrections” than Democrats did — however, their language surrounding it wasn’t always “tough.” For example, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds touted her state’s apprenticeship programs that try to reintegrate inmates in society: “Most of our inmates aren’t inmates for life. They will reenter society — and when they do, we want them to be successful. Those who can’t get a job often find their way back to crime and then back to prison.” Several other Republican governors discussed the need to reduce their “prison population.”

On the other hand, it was mostly Democratic governors who talked about guns. For example, eight Democratic governors used the term “gun violence,” but no Republicans did so. Notably, only two Republican governors even mentioned the “Second Amendment.” More frequently, Republicans talked about guns in the context of “school safety,” a phrase used in seven GOP speeches and one Democratic one.

Mental health

More Republican governors (18) than Democratic ones (10) used the phrase “mental health” in their state of the state addresses, and a third of those Republicans — six of the 18 — did so in the context of violence in schools. For example, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said, “To keep our classrooms safe, we must also address the mental health issues that often lead to school violence.”

The partisan (and not so partisan) rhetoric on mental health

One-, two- and three-word phrases about mental health that appeared in governors’ 2019 state of the state speeches, by how often a phrase was used by Democratic and Republican governors

SHARE THAT INCLUDE PHRASE
Phrase
P-VALUE*
Dem. speeches
Rep. speeches
Diff
mental health 0.27 43.5% 66.7% R+23.2
drugs 0.24 21.7 40.7 R+19.0
drug 0.44 43.5 59.3 R+15.8
addiction 0.50 26.1 37.0 R+11.0
mental health issues 0.24 4.4 14.8 R+10.5
opioid addiction 0.35 8.7 18.5 R+9.8
overdose 0.57 26.1 18.5 D+7.6
opioid 0.71 47.8 40.7 D+7.1
substance 0.69 30.4 37.0 R+6.6
mental health care 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
substance use 0.53 8.7 14.8 R+6.1
opioid crisis 0.70 17.4 22.2 R+4.8
substance abuse 0.78 26.1 22.2 D+3.9
mental health substance 0.84 13.0 11.1 D+1.9
mental health services 0.93 17.4 18.5 R+1.1
mental illness 0.93 17.4 18.5 R+1.1

Excludes two- and three-word phrases that appeared in fewer than five speeches and single words that appeared in fewer than 10 speeches.

Includes all uses of a given phrase, even when it overlaps with another phrase. For example, “mental health” also counts the term “mental health” when it appears as part of “mental health care.”

*The p-value for a particular phrase is a measure of how unlikely it is that Democratic and Republican governors used the phrase with the same frequency. A lower p-value means that the partisanship of a phrase in our data set is more statistically distinguishable.

Sources: State websites, media outlets

Other Republicans spoke about mental health more broadly. For instance, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu discussed overhauling the state’s mental health care system and reducing suicide rates. And four Republican governors brought up mental health in the context of drug addiction. Republicans were also likelier than Democrats to discuss “opioid addiction,” but “opioid” overall was relatively common in both Democratic and Republican speeches.


As for immigration and abortion, two issues that have recently been prominent on the national level, we didn’t find a lot of discussion of them in the governors’ speeches. Only three gubernatorial speeches included the word “immigration,” and related terms were similarly rare. When they did come up, there was a noticeable partisan divide: For example, Democrats were more likely to use the word “immigrants” (four speeches to two), while Republicans were more likely to reference the “border” (five speeches to one). Similarly, just two governors mentioned abortion: Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, who is a supporter of abortion rights, and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who is against abortion. Of course, this doesn’t mean that state governments aren’t legislating on abortion — we know that they are — but it’s notable that so few governors mentioned it in their speeches.

Setting partisan differences aside, a lot of governors agreed on one thing in particular: that the state of their state was strong! Of the dozens of governors who included the phrase “the state of our state is …”6 in their state of the state address, at least 16 followed it with “strong” or some variation thereof — including “stronger than ever,” “growing stronger each day” and “hopeful, prosperous and strong.” Others were more creative and said the state of their state was “solid,” “rock solid,” “full of opportunity” or “determined.” But a few were … less confident: “The state of our state is improving” (ouch, Kansas); “the state of our state is that we’ve got work to do” (better get cracking, Wisconsin!).

Laura Bronner contributed analysis.

Footnotes

  1. In some states and in some years, the state of the state equivalent is called an inaugural or budget address.

  2. Disregarding a list of “stop-words” such as “a” or “the” that are commonly excluded when conducting this type of text analysis.

  3. More specifically, a chi^2 test of statistical significance. That produces an associated p-value for each phrase in our data set, which tells us how unlikely it is that Democratic and Republican governors used the phrase with the same frequency.

  4. For example, the phrase “college tuition” was mentioned by five Democrats and one Republican, while the phrase “student debt” made it into three Democratic speeches and two Republican speeches.

  5. The two Republicans were Larry Hogan of Maryland and Mark Gordon of Wyoming.

  6. Or a close variant, like “the state of the state is,” “the state of the commonwealth is” or “the state of our commonwealth is.”

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

Dhrumil Mehta is a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight focusing on politics.

Comments