Monday, December 7, 2015

Obama, Gun Control, and ISIL

Late last week, the Whitehouse announced that President Obama would address the country Sunday night regarding the recent San Bernardino shootings.  There was quite a bit of speculation on what the speech would cover, but as more information was made available, it seemed the speech would cover the following three items:
  • Sympathy for families.
  • Policy speech for containing ISIS.
  • Gun control speech.
Leading into the speech, I noticed the gun control portion seemed to get the most attention, but that turned out not to be the nature of the speech.


The speech itself was almost entirely focused on two issues: strategies currently being used and to be used in the fight against ISIS (foreign/immigration policy) and a request for tolerance towards Muslim Americans.  Gun policy was mentioned, but was only a minor part of the speech.  In fact, measured by either time or word count, the gun control portion of the speech represented about 7% of the total.  In fact, here is the entire portion of the speech related to gun control:
To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.
We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies -- no matter how effective they are -- cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do -- and must do -- is make it harder for them to kill.
Only a minority of the Obama speech was on gun control, but what about the reaction?


To compare the Obama speech to it's reaction, we need to analyze the types of terms used in the original speech to the reaction (here measured by twitter).  I imported the speech as a text document into R and then downloaded unique tweets that used the term #Obamaspeech.  After a quick descriptive analysis and topic modelling, a couple of realizations:
  • A majority of the tweets are either supporting or mocking the President's speech, without reference to policy.
  • A minority of tweets actually deal with the real policy issues.
As the tweets are fairly topic sparse, I focused on the most common terms used by the President and Tweeters respectively.  The terms I use are post stemming (which finds the root of each word) and stopwords (which removes common english words). Here's the list of the top twenty words for each set of text:

Most notably, the most common word used in tweets was "gun," a word not even found in the President's top 20 words (and only 7% of the speech, in total).  Also of note is that the American people generally use the term ISIS, whereas the president prefers ISIL.  Even Donald Trump weighed in on this one:

As much as I hate to admit it, people prefer word clouds to lists of words.  Here's a comparison between what the president said, and what tweeters were saying:



Interestingly, a speech where the president focused on strategies for defeating ISIS and tolerance towards American Muslims lead to a larger twitter conversation about gun control.  Gun control is obviously a hot button issue, and this is yet another way to measure that: Obama spent only 7% of his speech on gun control, whereas the word "gun" became the most common word used on twitter in response to it.  Also, Donald Trump was right about something: almost EVERYONE says ISIS instead of ISIL.


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  2. Leading into the speech, I noticed the gun control portion seemed to get the most attention, but that turned out not to be the nature of the speech.

  3. As much as I hate to admit it, people prefer word clouds to lists of words

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