The Obama Press Conference: A Walk in the (Word) Clouds

23 Jul

The folks over at have a neat little textual analysis tool that makes weighted lists in visual design, otherwise known as “word clouds.” I thought it would be fun to analyze the transcript from President Obama’s Wednesday night health reform press conference.

Obama’s become very fond of the primetime press conference format. It seems to provide more of a town hall meeting format (provided there’s a town full of reporters…..oh, right, Washington, DC), which makes it more accessible than a traditional Presidential Address to the Nation. The format of these events is always a two-parter: First, Obama delivers his teleprompter assisted prepared remarks. Then, he opens things up for questions. While politicians have been known to feed questions to folks in the audience–especially during elections–the White House press conferences appear legitimate. Therefore, it seems only fair to compare the word cloud generated from the transcript of Obama’s prepared remarks with the word cloud generated from the transcript of the question-and-answer period.

You can access the word clouds for Obama’s prepared remarks and the question and answer period by clicking on the appropriate link.

Here are my immediate observations, and I welcome your thoughts as well.

Obama’s prepared statement screams “health insurance reform” loud and clear. It also spends a lot of time conveying the idea that the need for health reform is universal, and that we all stand to benefit from the changes being proposed. Words like “every” “Americans” “coverage” and “costs” are dominant. The deficit, the economy, jobs, money and finances are also big.

There are also some notable missing words. We see Congress and Republican, but government is nowhere in the top 100. Interestingly, despite the heavy use of the term “insurance,” the uninsured are not mentioned enough to appear in the results. Likewise, Medicare is touched on frequently, while Medicaid does not show at all.

What I take from this is that President Obama is stressing two things: 1.) That health reform is in everyone’s best interests and 2.) The federal budget is doomed unless health reform is enacted. In reality, 1 and 2 are inextricably intertwined. Simultaneously, Obama is trying to avoid any notion of a big, redistributive government program. He barely mentions taxes. He doesn’t highlight the uninsured or the low-income. Rather, he stresses that this is everyone’s problem.

During the unscripted Q & A, the majority of words used most frequently are in keeping with the President’s prepared remarks. The most noticeable difference is that “insurance” and “reform” are used much less frequently during the Q & A period. In their place are much more action-oriented words, such as “going” “think” “know” “want” and “make.” Again, references to Medicaid and the uninsured can’t be found.

What conclusions can we draw from all of this? That President Obama is on the offensive when it comes to health reform–he wants to see this pass. That he’s walking a tightrope between a strict timeline and a politically and technically feasible solution to the nation’s health care crisis. That he genuinely believes that health reform is advantageous for the country as a whole, and something with which all of us need to be concerned. As he said Wednesday night, “This isn’t about me. I have great health insurance….Reform is about every American. Not just the 47 million uninsured.” I couldn’t agree more.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 23, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “The Obama Press Conference: A Walk in the (Word) Clouds

  1. Joel

    July 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Of the 47 million uninsured, how many are actually citizens? How many can afford it but choose to remain uninsured? And how many are turned away from care due to lack of coverage?Anyone that's ever spent time at the DMV has a pretty good idea of what state provided healthcare will be like. Or if you're really curious, ask a Canadian.I'm no expert on Obama's health care reform proposals, but I do know that government spending under the previous and current administration is absolutely out of control. I don't believe the silly claims that this plan will result in a budget surplus, and I certainly expect that the true costs will vastly exceed projections ($634 billion over 10 years) as they always do.The fact that the president and Congress are curiously exempt from this proposed health care plan just reeks of Ingsoc.


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