RESEARCH MEMO: Report On Columbus Swing Voters’ Responses To President Obama’s State Of The Union Address
TO: Priorities USA Action
FROM: Geoff Garin, Hart Research Associates
DATE: January 24, 2012
RE: Report On Columbus Swing Voters’ Responses To President Obama’s State Of The Union Address
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.
Half the participants in this session describe themselves as either leaning Republican or completely independent, while the other half lean Democratic. All 28 participants gave the speech a rating of six or higher on a 10-point favorability scale, and more than half gave it an eight-to-10 rating.
Voters’ dominant impression of Obama based on the speech is that he is a strong and confident leader. Indeed, in a before-and-after test, the proportion of participants describing Obama as “a strong leader” rose from 39% to 71%.
The speech also strengthened the President’s reputation among these swing voters as a champion of the middle class. Fully 78% said after the speech that Obama “looks out for the middle class,” up from 59% before the speech.
These Ohio voters, Democrats and non-Democrats alike, had a strongly favorable reaction to President Obama’s policy proposals, particularly on the economic front. Two-thirds of participants said the President “offered good ideas and solutions for the future” in the speech. The share of participants who said Obama has good ideas for improving the economy rose from 39% before the speech to 79% after the speech.
The large majority of participants dismissed the idea that Obama’s discussion of the economy was too divisive or an example of “class warfare.” Only six of the 28 participants said Obama “went too far in dividing the country along economic lines and engaging in class warfare.”
President Obama also strengthened his standing in participants’ eyes as someone who tries to work across party lines to get things done for the country. The proportion of participants who described the President in these terms rose from 50% before the speech to 71% after the speech. In the moment-to-moment dialing of the speech, the President’s closing appeal for national unity received consistently outstanding scores, and this passage stood out as a stirring reminder to these swing voters of what attracted them to Barack Obama in the first place.
Several passages in the speech produced large positive spikes in voters’ ratings. In addition to the closing section, the following key points in the speech were among those that evoked the most favorable responses:
- The discussion of the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and the fact that for the first time in many years Osama Bin Laden is no longer a threat to the United States;
- Obama’s recounting of the rebirth of the American automobile industry as a result of the government’s actions to save it;
- Obama’s policy discussion on outsourcing, his insistence on leveling the playing field with our foreign competitors, and his emphasis on ending tax advantages for U.S. companies that outsource jobs;
- The discussion of the importance of job training and supporting the efforts of community colleges in helping prepare workers to succeed in today’s job market;
- Obama’s emphasis on college affordability, including his call to lower the rates on student loans;
- Obama’s support for an “all of the above” energy policy, especially his calls for American leadership in new energy sources and an end to subsidies for the oil industry;
- Obama’s strong support for enhanced protections from mercury pollution and ensuring that our food is safe and our water is clean;
- Obama’s insistence on reforms in which wealthy Americans pay their fair share of taxes; and,
- The discussion of the situation with Iran, including both his declaration that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and his declaration that resolving this situation diplomatically would be preferable.
Obama’s extended discussion of the ways in which Washington is broken received an exceptionally positive reaction from participants, especially his call for an end to insider trading by members of Congress.
Of particular interest in watching the dials during the speech were the number of points during which the President broke through with non-college-educated participants, who traditionally have been a skeptical and difficult audience for him. His discussion of jobs and economic fairness was especially effective with this group.
Similarly, the speech scored well overall with independents, and at several points their mean rating for the speech broke the 70-point mark (on a scale of zero to 100)¾an indicator of significant success.