The slow march to boredom, calculated in words per minute

It should be clear to anybody that I like following politics. Parts of politics that others find boring, I find interesting. I recognize that boring is a subjective term. That said, I was bored by last night’s State of the Union address. It felt like it went on and on, and without much said. Being somebody who likes to take a fact/data-based approach to things, I spent a little time this morning checking my emotional response, in the way that I’ve always wanted to maintain at Hitting Bregma (see here). Here’s what I found.

First, I was thrilled to learn that a couple of professors named John Woolley (UC Santa Barbara) and Gerhard Peters (Citrus College) have a collection of data hosted by UC Santa Barbara at the American Presidency Project. Among these data, they have a table of the length of each State of the union address, beginning with Johnson (1966), and another table showing the number of words in each State of the Union address for all addresses from all presidents. Excellent.

I used these data to calculate the average words per minute in each State of the Union, and the averages are here (from Johnson to Trump). SOTU words per minute

As you can see, Trump’s rate of words is considerably lower than the others. In his first SOTU address, he spoke 5830 words over a total of 1 hour 20 minutes and 31 seconds. Compare that with the most recent contrast, Obama, who spoke an average of 6824 words in an average of 1 hour 2 minutes and 45 seconds, and it’s clear why it seemed slower and longer to me. Even without the contrast, Trump’s rate of speech was slower than what Americans who follow the State of the Union are used to. Trump came in at 72.41 words per minute, whereas the average of SOTU addresses since Johnson was 100.8 words per minute.

In case you’re wondering (I was), the correlation (r=0.044349) between political party and words per minute does not support a relationship between the two. Also, in case you’re wondering (I was), the most words per minute award goes to Richard Nixon, who averaged 127.59 words per minute, well above the average of 100.8 words per minute. (This does not include the single written SOTU that he delivered, which had more than 27,000 words — about 22,000 words more than his usual spoken SOTU address.)

Also, in case you’re wondering, this only took me about 13.2 minutes, so there’s no need to worry about me being obsessed or anything…OK, maybe a little need to worry.


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