A More Assertive Obama?

by John Sides on February 13, 2013 · 10 comments

in Presidency


Andrew Rudalevige February 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Interesting post. A quick query – if you take out the gun control segment towards the end of the speech, where Obama moved out of State of the Union mode to something much more folksy (“they deserve a simple vote!”), would the distinction drop between 2013 and the other speeches drop out?

Stephen Dyson February 14, 2013 at 11:53 am

Hi Andrew – interesting hypothesis. The 408 words in question (beginning with “Of course, what I’ve said tonight…” and ending with “absolutely necessary work of self-government”) score: belief in ability to control events = .60, complexity = .53. So Obama is asserting more control or intention to take action here and about the same complexity as the rest of the speech. The speech absent that section scores BACE = .46, C = .52. So much the same. 408 words is an extremely small sample for this kind of analysis (so few coding opportunities that an odd word here and there makes a big difference to the results). It’s also too few to make a difference to the overall scores for the speech.

Andrew Rudalevige February 14, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Thanks for checking it out!

Alex Badas February 14, 2013 at 12:10 am

Interesting post. I was curious, so I downloaded the software and ran through Rubio’s response. If anyone is interested, the scoring is as follows:
Belief in ability to control events: 0
Complexity: .4
Distrust of others: 0
Ingroup bias: .66
Need for power: 0
Self-confidence: .2
Task focused: .6

JP February 14, 2013 at 2:46 am

For the sotu data the sample size is only five. If data was collected on more of Obamas speeches I wonder what the standard deviation would be. Just based on my intuition it seems like this metric would vary quite a bit.

Dan T. February 14, 2013 at 4:44 am

You get paid for this bullshit, John? Like the President writes his own speeches.

John Sides February 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

Dan T., if you read carefully, you’ll see that I didn’t write this post. But I’m happy to respond. It’s true that speech-writers and others are involved in crafting an address like the SOTU, but presidents contribute as well, as this piece makes clear:


Stephen Dyson February 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm

There are a slew of interesting questions that can be asked about using speeches in this way – there’s a really good discussion, along with some empirical testing of different possibilities, in the forum I linked to under “caveats”. As the article John kindly posted indicates, most of the time speechwriters work interactively with the principal and within the boundaries set out by them. A related challenge to inference is whether speeches reveal anything other than impression management strategies (as opposed to genuine beliefs). We’ll want to continue to monitor Obama’s speeches and his behavior to see if the change apparent above is real or just temporary impression management.

Dan T. February 17, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Yeah, sorry, I did not read carefully. My attempt at giving you a hard time has failed.

I’m doing better, btw. Thanks for your help.

Overleaf February 16, 2013 at 4:24 am

It is nonsense such as this article that gives social science a bad name. Just shows there is no science in social science.

That is why we should stop subsidizing students who wish to graduate in BS artistry — which is sociology. The world would be a much nicer place without such nonsense.

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