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How Obama’s State of the Union rhetoric has changed, in one chart

As issues the United States faces have shifted, so has the president's State of the Union rhetoric.

In 2009, when President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union address, the big issues on his mind were the economy (still in the midst of a deep recession) and health care (the issue that would soon become a massive congressional debate).

But in his 2016 address, delivered Tuesday, Obama's priorities had changed. Health care barely came up — and the president had more to say about international affairs and war. Syria, a country that didn't turn up in his first address, was mentioned multiple times.

This graphic shows how the president's words have changed over his eight years in office.

For our analysis, we counted the most frequent words and some extra selected ones. We excluded pronouns, common articles — "the," "and" — and some ubiquitous words like "America" and "United States."

The words of Obama's State of the Union speeches

Health care and education take a back seat

Obama's first State of the Union focused heavily on two domestic policy issues: health care and education. They were two of the issues that he deemed "critical" to the nation's health (the third being energy).

But since 2009, the Obama administration has made decent headway on both issues. It passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and after that, health issues largely disappear from the address. Discussion about education also tapered off, although that was before Congress acted to get rid of No Child Left Behind in 2015.

Syria and international affairs become a new focus

The most used word in Obama's 2009 State of the Union address was "economy" — he said it 30 times.

But this year Obama had a new favorite word: "world," which he used 22 times on Tuesday night. Some of that was linked to international security, but a lot of it was wrapped up in a conversation about how best to respond to climate change.

"Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it," Obama said. "You'll be pretty lonely, because you'll be debating our military, most of America's business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it's a problem and intend to solve it."

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