A Content Analysis of Governor Pawlenty’s 2008 and 2009 State of the State Addresses

Governor Tim Pawlenty’s State of the State Address on Thursday afternoon saw a significant change in the policy issues he raised from his previous address on February 13, 2008. These changes largely reflected the harsh economic reality that has beset both the state and the nation during the past year.

A Smart Politics content analysis of each address found Pawlenty focusing on the same two top-tier issues in both years (K-12 education and taxes), but a much greater variety and change in distribution of attention to second-tier issues. The 2009 address was comprised of 244 sentences – a 15 percent increase from his 2008 address (212 sentences).

Each address contained a similar amount of non-policy messages celebrating all that is good and great about the state of Minnesota – its traditions, culture, work ethic etc. In 2008, 34 sentences (16.0 percent of the address) were devoted to these introductory and concluding ‘fluff’ remarks, compared to 30 sentences (12.3 percent) this year.

Leading the way, K-12 education was by far the policy area Governor Pawlenty discussed the most in each year’s address: 51 sentences in 2008 (24.1 percent) and 50 sentences in 2009 (20.5 percent).

Although the Governor approached the issue with a different tone each year, taxes remained a top-tier issue in both addresses: 19 sentences in 2008 (9.0 percent) and 26 sentences in 2009 (10.7 percent). In 2008, Pawlenty boldly referred to his “taxpayer protection pen, other wise known as the veto pen….I will not hesitate to use it to stop government from digging into your wallets. This year, in perhaps his most famous passages, Pawlenty pleaded with the legislature, “Please don’t take more of (the people’s) hard earned money. Please don’t raise their taxes.

There were a few policy issues addressed in Pawlenty’s 2009 address that did not come up in 2008: higher education (19 sentences), intergovernmental relations (17 sentences), and public safety (1 sentence) – the first two of which were raised in the broader context of finding ways for the government to save money.

Likewise, there were several issues in 2008 that were of much more pressing importance to the Governor than they are today. The varied issues of agriculture, transportation, the environment, mining, disasters, voting, and technology comprised 20 percent of his 2008 address (43 sentences) but were not discussed at all as stand alone issues in 2009.

Pawlenty also devoted approximately 14 percent of his 2008 address to health and energy issues (30 sentences), compared to just 5 percent this year (12 sentences combined).

Although the Governor peppered his 2009 address with optimistic language, there was no doubt Pawlenty recognized the bleakness of the coming year for the State of Minnesota. Pawlenty delivered 13 sentences devoted to the “challenges that Minnesotans will face, compared to just 7 such lines in 2009.

Likewise, the Governor made three times as many references to the economy this year (12 sentences) than last (4 lines), as well as four times as many references to the state budget, the deficit, and the need to watch governmental spending (16 sentences this year, compared to just 4 lines in 2008).

Pawlenty also delivered more than twice as many references to jobs and employment in yesterday’s address (15 sentences) as compared to 2008 (6 sentences). Minnesota’s unemployment rate (6.4 percent) is currently at a nearly quarter-century long high.

Pawlenty also devoted approximately twice as much time on the military and veterans in 2009 (25 sentences) as he did in 2008 (12 sentences). Back in December, the Governor stated his commitment to the military and veterans as his top priority in the budget.

Governor Pawlenty’s State of the State Addresses by Issue, 2008-2009

Issue
2008
2009
K-12 Education
51
50
“Minnesota values / traditions”
34
30
Taxes
19
26
Military and Veterans
12
25
Higher Education
0
19
Intergovernmental Relations
0
17
Budget / Deficit / Spending
4
16
Jobs
6
15
“Challenges” (general)
7
13
Economy
4
12
Health
17
6
Energy
13
6
Business
1
5
Religion / God
1
3
Public safety
0
1
Agriculture
11
0
Environment
9
0
Mining
8
0
Transportation
7
0
Disasters
6
0
Technology
1
0
Voting
1
0
Total
212
244

Note: measured by number of sentences.

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