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State of the Union: Don't Expect a Bounce

Topics: Barack Obama , One night polls , SOTU , Speech Reaction , State of the Union

Perhaps political journalists have all gotten the message by now that polling "bumps" from the annual State of the Union (SOTU) address are more myth than reality. If so, this post may be something of a cliche. But I'm not convinced, so I want to recommend this very helpful report published last night by Gallup based on their 30-year archive of pre and post SOTU polling.

If you report or comment on politics, it's a must read. If you are short on time, here are the two main points (with a little added value from our own posts over the last five years):

1) "These speeches rarely affect a president's public standing in a meaningful way, despite the amount of attention they receive."

Gallup's report includes a table showing the level of presidential approval measured immediately before and after the last 27 State of the Union addresses. "Across all presidents," they report, "the average change in approval has been less than a one percentage-point decline.

It is also keeping in mind, as I wrote on the old Mystery Pollster blog four years ago, that the one big exception to the rule -- the apparent 10 percentage point jump for Bill Clinton in 1998 -- was a very unique presidential address:

The Monica Lewinsky story had broken just a few days before. The day before that speech, Bill Clinton faced the cameras and delivered his infamous "I never had sex with that woman" quote. MP cannot find the ratings for that speech, but interest in the speech was certainly high. Ironically, the reaction to Clinton's performance - seemingly unfazed by the scandal erupting around him - help[ed] boost his numbers in a way that persisted until the impeachment trial ended with an acquittal.

So the one exception to the rule may have been less about perceptions of the speech itself and more about how the speech fit into the context of a larger event.

Bottom line: Don't expect a big bump tonight. My post from 2006 covers a lot of the same ground as the Gallup report, as does Charles' Franklin's commentary in 2007 on this graphic

SotUEffectsmall.png

2) "The audiences for the State of the Union tend to be heavily tilted toward the president's existing supporters."

This table from the report is in many ways the most useful for those of us who will be looking at the one-night-wonder polls conducted immediately after the speech.

2010-01-27-GallupSOTUparty.jpg

In many ways, this is the one poll measurement that interests me tonight: Will the speech attract an audience heavily tilted toward Democrats, as is typical, or will the enthusiasm gap apparent in so many approval polls (Republicans report a greater likelihood to vote in 2010 than Democrats) make for a more balanced audience? In other words, will the audience look more like 1999 or 1995 (just days after Republicans took control of the House and Senate, installing Newt Gingrich in the seat just behind President Clinton)? While a typically Democratic skew will tell us little (notice the composition in 1994), it will be a very bad sign for Democrats if the audience consists of as many who tune in to jeer as to cheer.

On the subject of immediate reaction polls and focus groups, see my post from this past September which reviews their widely varying methodologies and the limitations inherent in this sort of survey.

 

Comments
Farleftandproud:

No, I am not expecting a bounce after this speech. Last September he seemed convincing that magic was going to happen and don't ask don't tell would be repealed and we would have health care by the end of 2009. Again his promises were broken. Tonight, he needs to address the reasons his promises have been delayed. He needs to take swipes at his opponents and stop being a pussy, and fight for the people who are discriminated against in our armed forces because of sexual orientation, fight against the supreme court tyranny that is giving corporations an unlimited chance to sway the minds of weap people into believing misinformation and he has to fight for the increasing people who are uninsured this year and those who lost their insurance, and at least promise we will have some regulations and more affordable rates. This is what I campaigned for and this is what I am holding him too.

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