Reverend Jeremiah Wright re-emerged as a thorn in presidential hopeful Barack Obama's side a week ago with two back-to-back inflammatory speeches, one to the NAACP and one to the National Press Club on April 27th and 28th respectively. This time Barack Obama quickly and forcefully denounced the divisive comments of Reverend Wright in a hastily arranged press conference the next day on April 29th.
The following day, after Barack's press conference denouncing Reverend Wright, national discussions and debate on a proposed temporary gas tax holiday began to really heat up.
Using a type of internet measurement usually reserved for competitive intelligence analysis one can measure the day to day online sentiment as it relates to a particular topic or conversational topic. Using this analysis it appears the online discussions of Reverend Wright across the country have begun to fade and lose traction in a very significant fashion. What is interesting about this declining interest is that it appears to coincide with increased discussions about the gas tax holiday. Despite Barack Obama's opposition to the idea of a gas tax holiday the heated nature of the discussion itself appears to have helped Barack Obama politically by shifting the public's discussions away from Reverend Wright and back to the economy and rising gas prices.
Analysis of the weekly online sentiment demonstrates that the second spike in media coverage and online discussions of Reverend Wright occurred right after his speeches on the 28th of April (figure 1)
. The total spike of discussions revolving around Reverend Wright for the week of April 27th was 6% smaller than the first spike of controversy that occurred around March 16th (figure 2)
after inflammatory snippets were extracted from sermons of Reverend Wright years ago that had been archived on DVDs. In addition the recovery of the most recent spike was twice as fast as the first spike of controversy suggesting a lack of any traction among the general public. This decline coincided with an explosion of discussions revolving around the gas tax holiday as indicated in figure 3.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll out on Sunday, 57 percent of voters said the Wright issue would not matter to them at all when they decide who to vote for in November, but 44 percent of those polled said they thought the issue would matter to people they know. Even though almost half of those polled in the New York Times / CBS News poll, only a few days ago, thought that Barack Obama denounced Reverend Wright for political reasons it appears that this may not have reflected negatively on Barack Obama. In fact, in light of tonight's surprisingly strong primary results for Barack Obama, it appears that Barack Obama's denounciation of Reverend Wright's comments may have actually resonated with voters in a positive fashion.
Last night a very decisive victory by presidential hopeful Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and a race that Barack Obama nearly won in Indiana may confirm that the Reverend Wright story has run its course and may not have damaged Barack Obama nearly as much as the pundits had projected even a few days ago. Recent polls by Suffolk University and SurveyUSA suggested that Hillary Clinton had a 6 –12 % lead over Barack Obama in Indiana and that she had cut into has substantial lead in North Carolina from a few weeks ago and had narrowed his lead down to possibly a single digits according to recent SurveyUSA and Mason Dixon polling data. The polling results from last night and preliminary results from the exit polling seem to concur with the online sentiment data that is presented here. Last night's results seems to have emphatically stated that the firestorm of media attention focused on the Reverend Wright controversy is over at least in the eyes of the more forgiving American public.
A side note of interest is that the thorough if not obsessive media coverage and discussions of the Reverend Wright controversy and Barack Obama's 20 year membership and attendance in the mainline Christian church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has also effectively helped to begin dispelling the myth that Barak Obama is somehow Muslim which was propagated by Obama's detractors across the internet many months ago. Although, sadly a recent poll found that despite all the media coverage of Barack Obama's 20 year attendance in a Christian church 13% of Americans still believe this myth.
Since a peak number of references in the week of February24th the online sentiment suggesting that Barack Obama is a Muslim has declined by 86% (figure 4). A cynical view to that of just being completely uninformed and ignorant is the idea that there is an underlying racism present still in a significant portion of the population and they can effectively use the Muslim reason to mask the true root of their dislike of Barack Obama which is their bigotry.