In recent years, the Presidential State of the Union Address has become a long list of bullet points in which a President makes sure to give a shout-out to every cause and issue that gains a certain level of importance in surveys of public opinion. Count how many times a President mentions a phrase like, say, “small business” and you’ll be able to figure out what tests well on tracking polls.


Update: The term (or it plural) small business was used three times in the 2015 address.


The chart above (click to enlarge) demonstrates that the term “small business” has consistently scored 2-3 mentions in the State of the Union Addresses of President Obama. One year, 2010, the term “small business” nearly scored off the chart, literally.

What about tonight’s State of the Union Address? Expect to hear the phrase “small business” mentioned, but primarily in the context of “exceptions.” The President will be promoting a higher tax rate on the top 1% of taxpayers but will likely include the caveat that small business owners are not the target of such taxes. Why? Because the phrases related to taxing “trust funds” and the “top 1%” work well in polls and surveys, but any phrase related to taxing small businesses is a loser in such research.

Politico.com reports, the new tax rates and regulations “will add various provisions aimed at shielding the nonwealthy and small businesses from having to pay (a ‘loophole tax’).” Thus, look for the number of times “small business” is mentioned to be higher than normal, but primarily to deflect pushback against new or increased taxes.

Which brings us to the most unfortunate data about State of the Union Addresses: They have little to do with actual policy and everything to do with politics. For example, does anyone actually believe that taxes will be increased with the current makeup of congress? Really?

Rather than point to things that can be accomplished, State of the Union addresses are more often than not used primarily to establish the battlefield for coming elections.

Which, no matter what phrase you want to hear, is more about words than actions. And that’s not a very good state for anyone.