Political Animal


January 25, 2012 10:30 AM Initial polling on SOTU appears positive

By Steve Benen

It’s only been about 12 hours since the State of the Union address wrapped up, so it’s too early to get a complete picture of how it resonated with the public. For that matter, not everyone watches these speeches — and those who do are likely more inclined to agree with what President Obama has to say.

That said, there are some early reports pointing to positive public reactions to the speech.

Participants in a Hart Research focus group in Columbus, Ohio, for example, seemed very impressed with what they saw.

Based on our dial session with 28 voters in Columbus, Ohio, President Obama’s State of the Union speech was an exceptionally strong performance, leaving viewers with a clear impression of him as a strong leader who cares about the middle class and offers good ideas and solutions for America’s future. Voters’ positive reception of the speech’s core themes suggests that they will serve as a solid foundation for the President in the months ahead, in framing both his policy agenda and the case for his reelection.

There was also a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner focus group in Denver for Democracy Corps, which found voters who “overwhelmingly liked what they heard” last night.

Dial testing and follow-up focus groups with 50 swing voters in Denver, Colorado show that President Obama’s populist defense of the middle class and their priorities in his State of the Union scored with voters. The President generated strong responses on energy, education and foreign policy, but most important, he made impressive gains on a range of economic measures. These swing voters, even the Republicans, responded enthusiastically to his call for a “Buffet Rule” that would require the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. As one participant put it, “I agree with his tax reform - the 1 percent should shoulder more of the burden than the other 99 percent. He [Obama] talked about being all for one, one for all - that really resonated for me.” These dial focus groups make it very clear that defending further tax cuts for those at the top of the economic spectrum puts Republicans in Congress and on the Presidential campaign trail well outside of the American mainstream.

Of course, all of the usual caveats certainly apply. Immediate reaction can shift, and there’s little evidence to suggest positive public reactions lead to lasting changes to voters’ attitudes.

Still, the White House will likely be pleased with the positive early reactions — they’re far better than the alternative — and with a message that resonates, the president and his team will no doubt try to build on this moving forward.

Update: This report initially cited a CBS News poll, which had been sent in by a reader. It turns out, that poll was taken after last year’s State of the Union, so I’ve removed the out-of-date information and edited the text accordingly.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Pal2008 on January 25, 2012 10:36 AM:

    My wife had the volume turned off when I got home and went to a different room when I turned the volume on. She says it isn't worth listening to because the republicans will just block everything Obama tries to do. According to my wife, it is all just a waste of time. According to her, we need a different president. One that can get something done. Talk about giving in to terrorists. Fight the evil power!

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 25, 2012 10:44 AM:


    Our corporately owned media stars have already declared Obama's SOTU speech to be boring, tedious, and devoid of substance.

    Except for Fox News, Drudge Report, etc. who declared it to be a vapid call for class warfare.

  • RalfW on January 25, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Immediate reaction can shift

    Uh huh.

    Because the pundit class has been on the hustings non-stop starting .01 seconds after the applause to rework the impressions, especially to work the people who didn't actually watch the speech.

  • Robert on January 25, 2012 10:55 AM:

    "Our corporately owned media stars."

    Let's occupy CBS until they send that pompous stuffed shirt over the hill apologizer for everything Rethuglican Scheiffer back to Texas.

  • Ron Byers on January 25, 2012 10:56 AM:

    I thought it was an outstanding speech. The key is he told the congress that if they don't do anything this year he will still try to find ways to help the American people.

  • stormskies on January 25, 2012 10:58 AM:

    The corporate media and the pundit class know why they are paid to do what they do ....... and, in essence, that is to tell people how to think about anything ... and that thinking will always benefit the corporations themselves who employ them .........

  • walt on January 25, 2012 11:02 AM:

    We hear all the time from the Villagers that Americans don't like class war but love wealthy people who rain jobs down on the peasants like manna from heaven. Maybe instead of listening to themselves, pundits should pay attention to these polls. It's clear that you can confuse a lot of citizens with your own class warfare (the one where whites are victims of liberals). So, when Obama speaks the truth about this situation, the Tories have fainting spells. Reading Andrew Sullivan is especially illuminating in this regard. Millionaire pundits have a class bias and it's not for yours. It's for theirs. Screw them.

  • Danp on January 25, 2012 11:06 AM:

    According to her, we need a different president. - Pat2008

    Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Kathryn on January 25, 2012 11:06 AM:

    Good grief Pal2008, my condolences. Throwing in the towel will bring us results alright, goodbye democracy, goodbye union jobs, goodbye middle class, hello United States of Corporate America.

  • Anonymous on January 25, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Good grief Pal2008

    fuck, we just need to remember the elections of 2010

  • SYSPROG on January 25, 2012 11:10 AM:

    'We need another PRESIDENT?' I don't THINK so. We need a different CONGRESS. To elect a different President means a Republican with more of the same. To elect a different President means to give in to doom and gloom. I will say it again. To blame the President for 'not getting things done', for 'not bringing the country together in civility' (he PROMISED you know) is to say it's OK to be a dick and blame the President for not making you behave. Honest to God...

  • Hedda Peraz on January 25, 2012 11:23 AM:

    OK, you are right, and we are wrong. Obama in a landslide, come November. So, why bother to vote? Stay home, watch some good TeeVee.
    (GOP, 2010, redux.)

  • MNRD on January 25, 2012 11:24 AM:

    walt, Andrew is beginning to come around today. Here's an excerpt from the reader's email that did the most to start to bring Andrew around:

    "It did exactly what it needed to do, which was to make him sound like the reasonable adult in a town full of insolent children. So...what? He should have proposed another hopeless grand vision that would proceed to go nowhere and play right into a Republican narrative about
    his ineffectual, overreaching nature? Or he should frame himself, and democrats at large, as the sober party in Washington."

  • SadOldVet on January 25, 2012 11:28 AM:

    I agree with Pal2008's wife...

    We need another president in 2016. My choice is Bernie Sanders.

    Until then, we need to make damn sure that the person taking the oath of office next January is not Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney!

    If Mittens or Newt becomes the next president, the question will not be whether the ameriKKKan worker is f*cked. The question will be how f*cked!

  • Matt on January 25, 2012 11:28 AM:

    The most accurate poll methodology in the world will run into a huge and insurmountable problem, though: the people who actually watched it are far more likely to be politically active Democrats in the first place.

    I mean, you couldn't have paid me to sit through any of Dubya's. I might have watched clips after the fact, but why would I have bothered? I hated him, I hated his policies, and I knew I wouldn't hear anything I liked. I imagine most Republicans feel the same way.

    Don't get me wrong, I thought it was a good speech. But then I would! The only thing that matters is how it played with the pundits and the thin slice of "persuadable" voters, and those voters don't usually start paying much attention until about Hallowe'en.

  • mallen on January 25, 2012 11:32 AM:

    It will be interesting to see Obama's actual tax reform proposals. Also probably somewhat disappointing. But no matter how weak, no doubt there will be no change, because any real reform will mean higher taxes for vulture capitalists and derivative traders etc. And any kind of tax increases are of course impossible, I bet even if matched by reductions on middle class taxes. I assume Obama's strategy will be to run on the issue of Congress's refusal to help the middle class.

  • Pal2008 on January 25, 2012 11:50 AM:

    The gob, it has been smacked! My wife will vote for Obama but clearly she sees the fruitlessness of continuing with a divided government. The sensible thing to do is to throw the republicans out in mass. Seriously, Obama needs to campaign for reelection and to retake the House and Senate. And he needs to get serious about it, not like 2010 by hanging out in the White House until 3 weeks before the election. He needs to get in there and fight for a new Congress starting right now. We need to get a move on and kick some republican butt.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 25, 2012 12:10 PM:

    @ Pal2008 11:50 AM

    Hear, hear!!!

    Another Obama term will me didley squit if the balance of powers in Congress isn't changed considerably in November. Either more representatives who aren't hell-bent on playing chicken with the country, or, like Obama posited last night, a return to simple majority rule. Ideally, I think Congress can stand a good dose of both, though I would be sufficiently satisfied if we could just get rid of the obstructionist 'Publicans and their lily-livered Democrat/Independent enablers.

  • emjayay on January 25, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Well, according to all the commenters over at AmericaBlog, the speech was just a bunch of empty campaign crap, and also Obama is a fascist. I guess they are all voting for Ralph Nader again, or not voting and enabling the Republican. Again.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 25, 2012 12:15 PM:

    "will mean"

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 25, 2012 12:25 PM:

    OMG!!! I forgot my favorite moment of the night: When Obama and Giffords gave each other great, big and fuzzy hugs. Yeah, I went all pansy-ass with the warm and fuzzy bunnies at that. Good Stuff, says I!!!

  • Jax6655 on January 25, 2012 12:45 PM:


    Independent will never be President. Bernie Sanders is 71 years old NOW--he'll be 75 in 2016. Too old to hold that position for another 8 years.

    Not ageist, just math.

  • Anonymous on January 25, 2012 1:09 PM:

    to @Matt, who claims the polls will always be slewed because the majority of people who watch are Democrats for a Democratic president and vice versa.

    Not so. Almost everyone I know disliked Bush intensely; but we listened to hear what he was signaling, including the wars he entered and his paranoid axis of evil speech. You need to know.

    Obama was signaling to the GOP that they are going to have a VERY tough time batting down his ideas about the country with the American public. The Mitch Daniels response was as mendacious as they come, and people will see through it. Time for a real change, not of president, but of the composition of the House!

    As for those who don't think Obama really keeps his promises, I'd seriously like to know what that means. He has done just about everything he said he would and where he was unable to, e.g. Gitmo and the Dream Act, it was on the head of Congress.

  • bdop4 on January 25, 2012 1:28 PM:

    The question now is how hard will Democratic leadership and Democrats in Congress go to the mat to push for bills supporting this agenda.

    Anything that doesn't pass, or more likely, make it to the floor HAS TO BECOME A CAMPAIGN ISSUE. FOR EVERYONE RUNNING.

    We've spent two years avoiding an inevitable fight. It's time to put on the gloves and start beating the crap out of the opposition on these issues.

    We don't just need an Obama reelection. WE NEED A NEW CONGRESS.

  • Goldilocks on January 25, 2012 1:49 PM:

    It's hard to believe possible, but this speech may be Mr Obama's greatest ever. I've watched it twice and it is FLAWLESS.