The evolving state of public sentiment toward BP and Obama

Twitter users' attitudes towards the BP oil disaster and the effect it is having on the Obama administration

This week BP successfully recapped its ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
Test results are favorable and show that oil and gas are, for the time being,
confined. This news inspires cautious optimism in the hearts of residents and
spectators alike. Online, however, the social effect continues to flow across
social networks and social graphs, echoing anger, hope, and the demand for
resolution and prevention from BP and the Obama administration.

If we were to look back and examine the extent of these online conversations
and the associated sentiment related to this catastrophic event, we realize just
how pervasive social networking is becoming to society. Social networks such as
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr served as primary media hubs for sharing
pictures, videos, and information. And, studying this activity could yield an ocean
of insight.

If one social community represented a repository of collective consciousness for
study today, there is no need to look beyond Twitter.

Twitter as a Human Seismograph

Twitter recently reported 105 million registered users with 190 million monthly
page views. Whatever the actual user count is and how many of those users
actually Tweet vs. solely consume content, it's clear that the public stream and
the oceans of conversations it feeds are the Web's most important database of
collective consciousness.

Our voices and our thoughts form much more than trends and trending topics.
When assembled, they reveal raw human sentiment, perception and also
indicate the responses and actions that materialize as a result. What was once
purely a human seismograph for measuring events and reactions has now
evolved into a vibrant society where the united intelligence that's available to us
both historically and in real-time is greater than the sum of its conversational
parts. If Twitter were the United Nations, its representatives would span the globe
and rank 11th in terms of overall population, just behind Mexico and just ahead of
the Philippines. Needless to say, the communication and connections that power
the Twitterverse are indeed representative of a universal culture.

Study: Evolving Sentiment Toward Obama and BP

As the Chief Data Analyst for PeopleBrowsr, I wanted to focus our research on
the U.S. Gulf oil crisis, one of the most important stories dominating the news,
our hearts and minds, and now history books. While emotions, opinions, and
hope run deep, this report will focus on the state of human sentiment as defined
by public conversations on Twitter.

The goal of this report was to surface and spotlight views and feelings as they
evolved over time. Concurrently, we set out to demonstrate perception vs.
actuality by separating the developing attitudes that defined the state of Obama
and BP over the course of several months.

To align our calendars, the BP oil spill was first reported on April 20th, 2010 as a
result of Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that killed 11 platform workers
and injured 17 others.

This study examines sentiment dating back to March 2010 and continues into
June 2010.

It's important to consider in this analysis that we viewed all conversations related
to the White House and Obama as a whole and not isolated by the oil spill
specifically. We did so to demonstrate the Gulf's impact on White House
sentiment as it became clear that the explosion was much more than an
unfortunate incident. Also, the following sentiment data is the result of human
sorted tweets that were randomly sampled over time.

Sentiment: Obama

Using Twitter as a micro approval indicator, the BP oil spill does not appear to be
"Obama's Katrina." Based on the data reviewed thus far, Obama's public
approval doesn't seem to indicate the intense backlash that shortly followed after

Between March and June 2010 (98 days), Obama and the White House were the
subject of over 2.5 million tweets. Of that, an estimated 213,000 were specifically
related to the BP oil spill. And over the course of those three-plus months,
sentiment averaged 64.55% neutral, 28.5% negative and 7% positive.

Sentiment: BP

Applying the same lens to BP, total conversations tied to BP and the oil spill
between March and June 2010 (98 days) skyrocketed to an approximated 1.1
million tweets. Of those conversations, 59.06% were deemed negative with an
additional 8.98% categorized as very negative. 28.82% of those tweets remained
neutral and believe it or not, 3.14% were viewed as positive.

Sentiment: Comparing BP and Obama Over Three

Positive: Starting with positive sentiment, the nosedive for both is grave. Doubts
for resolution and swift response caused the lack of public support for both
Obama and BP and ultimately shifted towards sharp criticism and deafening cries
for action and resolution.

Prior to the oil spill, BP was perched at its apex of positive sentiment. As the
news and failed attempts to cap the gushing well failed, sentiment plunged
61.5% over three months. Obama also fell 63.3% from its high in March to a
three month low.

Neutral: When either negative or positive conversations increase, it's usually at
the expense of indifferent banter. As expected, BP conversations hurtled by
53.39% between March and May. On the other hand, Tweets related to Obama
and the White House actually increased over the course of 90 days by 24.9%.

Negative: When reviewing negative sentiment related to BP, there's a reason
the term hockey stick is used when referring to graphs. In March, BP was already
the subject of negative commentary; however, after the explosion, critical
conversations skyrocketed 107.05%, representing a devastating vertical spike in
antipathetic public opinion.

On the contrary however, unfavorable Tweets related to Obama practically
remained constant, declining a bit by 1.29%.

The average sentiment comparing BP and Obama eerily aligned, indicating that
from a public perception standpoint, proactive leadership and resolution are


Hashtags were originally introduced into the Twitter stream by Chris Messina as
a way of categorizing conversations by topic and theme. Over time however, the
role of hashtags expanded beyond classification to now also convey emotion and
observation. For example, conversations related to the oil spill include hashtags
as sentiment or for conveying implicit messages such as "I can't believe the BP
oil well is still gushing #IhateBP!" and "The BP oil spill represents why offshore
drilling should be banned #helpsavethegulf."

Tweets populated with references and messages conveyed through hashtags
were overflowing and for the purpose of this report, we focused on spotlighting
only those densely tied to the event as well as President Obama.

To demonstrate the extent of these particular hashtag references, we visualized
them through an overlay graph dating back to the beginning of the year and
running through the end of June.

The number of Tweets including the following hashtags between April 20th and
June 30th demonstrate only a sample of all oil spill related conversations, but
offer a glimpse into the role hashtags play in this unique forum.

Total Hashtag References: April 20 - June 30, 2010
#oilspill = 438,926
#gulf = 35,225
#obama = 92,430
#bp = 225,365

President Obama's Job Approval

Reviewing President Obama's Job Approval at Gallup, we can visualize a steady
decline in approval and rise in disapproval with 47% and 46% respectively.

For Obama advisors as well as those on his communications team, a month-by-
month comparison of the erosion of BP and White House sentiment screams for
decisive action.


Thank you to everyone contributing donations and volunteering time to the Gulf
Coast clean up effort

Previous Reports:
- Top 20 Brands on Twitter
- SuperBowl Ads Sentiment 2010
- The 2009 State of the Airline Industry on Twitter
- The Twitter Hollywood Report 2009
- SXSW Sentiment 2009 vs. 2010

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