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On Post-SOTU Polls

Topics: Instant Reaction Polls

The President's annual State of the Union address is an obvious focus for media pollsters, as should be obvious by the explosion of national surveys we have been reporting over the last 72 hours or so. If past experience is a guide, CBS News and the Gallup Organization will both conduct and report on instant reaction polls among speech watchers immediately following the event.** Here are some tips on how to interpret those surveys:

First, bounces are rare. Or "mostly nil," as my colleague Charles Franklin put it yesterday. As demonstrated with his usual graphic flair, Professor Franklin shows that "the effect of State of the Union addresses on presidential approval has generally been small to non-existent."

Second, the president's admirers usually make up a disproportionate share of the audience, so the overall numbers the post speech reaction polls can be deceiving. Those numbers often look pretty good, even when the speech changes few minds. For those looking for more detail, I wrote about this phenomenon at length last year, just before and after the State of the Union address.

Third, what we are really interested in is whether the speech changes any minds about the President or his policies. In past years, both CBS and Gallup re-interviewed respondents who participated in national surveys a week ago, allowing comparisons of attitudes the sampled audience members expressed before and after the speech. Unfortunately, these comparisons get a little complicated and so we may not see these data until longer analyses are posted online tomorrow.

Finally, in looking at the question that typically leads the instant analysis coverage - essentially, what is your reaction to the President's speech*** - the results mean little unless compared to those from previous years. Last year, CNN put this helpful comparison front and center in their first on-air discussion of the poll results.

**CNN, USA Today were still partners with Gallup for their polling following last year's State of the Union address, but CNN ended that partnership a few months later and now conducts polls with the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC). Your guess as to what's coming tonight from CNN/ORC and USA Today/Gallup is a good as mine.

***In past years, the lead CBS question has been, "do you approve or disapprove of the proposals in the President's speech." The lead Gallup question is "What was your overall reaction to Bush's speech tonight -- very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, or very negative?" Of course, both organizations asked many more questions -see the CBS and Gallup reports from last year for more details.

 

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