Think Coding Is Hard? Try Finding the Data: A Mixed-Methods Case Study of Analyzing Mayors’ Speeches


State of the City speeches provide a unique opportunity to investigate the policy agendas of individual mayors in the United States. The collection, organization, and coding of 138 State of the City speeches from 45 of the 50 largest cities between 2010 and 2013 for an original dataset proved a valuable learning experience in data retrieval and research methodology. The speeches were difficult to find, requiring multiple strategies for collection that included web searches, video transcription, and correspondence with public officials. We had originally planned on analyzing the policy topics of greatest importance to mayors to understand priorities in post–Great Recession America. We coded the speeches using the coding scheme from the Policy Agendas framework, which we adapted to local government. However, a call for proposals related to a special issue of a journal examining how state and local governments address the issue of inequality provided an opportunity to adapt our database to an immediately publishable issue. This switch required us to a slight reorganization to separate economic development policies from issues of social inequality and redistributive policies. While the statistical analysis yielded interesting and significant results, the addition of qualitative data enhanced the understanding of how mayors frame policy issues and the patterns that emerged across cities insofar as specific policy suggestions. We conclude creating an original dataset can be difficult and time-consuming, but working within an existing and well-regarded coding scheme gives the advantages of legitimacy and an opportunity for future comparative studies.

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