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HUFFPOLLSTER: Why Not To Overstate The State Of The Union

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It's State of the Union week! The speech will get much coverage but is unlikely to change attitudes about the president. Nevertheless, pollsters check in on Obama approval and national priorities. And if you remember that Obama failed to push for reduced gasoline usage last year, you're ahead of us. This is HuffPollster for Monday, January 27, 2014.

WHY SOTU SPEECHES DON'T MAKE A DENT - HuffPollster, with Emily Swanson: "The pattern of State of the Union addresses failing to make much of a dent in public opinion isn't new, or unique to Obama's presidency. It's held largely true for the past five presidents' addresses. A new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows the State of the Union may be of minor importance to most Americans. Only 35 percent said that they watched last year's address, and even fewer -- 6 percent -- said that they could recall its contents "very well." Another 23 percent said they remembered it "somewhat well," while a combined 70 percent said they didn't remember it very well (28 percent) or didn't remember it well at all (42 percent). Only 7 percent could correctly identify a specific proposal -- reducing U.S. gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next 10 years -- that was NOT included in last year's address." [HuffPost]

The President's fans are more likely to watch - The HuffPost/YouGov poll also shows that, as has been true about past addresses, Democrats say they are planning to watch the speech more often (56 percent) than independents or Republicans (38 percent for each). More to the point, another question helped respondents explain further why the president's approval numbers rarely shift in response to the speech: Asked to guess whether this year's address "may change your views about the president and political issues," 65 percent said "it will mostly confirm what I already think, while just 9 percent said "it might change my views" (with 26 percent unsure). Moreover, Democrats were more than twice as likely to say they are open to persuasion (13 percent) than independents and Republicans (6 percent each). [HuffPost/YouGov results, demographic crosstabs]

SOTU speeches can have an impact - John Sides: "Political scientist Jeffrey Cohen examined all SOTU addresses from 1953 to 1989 and found that the more a president emphasized certain issues — especially economic policy, foreign policy and civil rights — the more Americans thought those were important issues. In the case of economic policy, this shift in Americans’ priorities lasted about a year; for the other issues, the shift was shorter-lived...Americans can even learn things from the SOTU address. Political scientist Jason Barabas has found that the public can correctly answer factual questions about the policies discussed in the speech, but only to the extent that the news media devote attention to those policies. So Obama’s success on this dimension is largely out of his control. If the media focus more on the theatrics of the occasion — 'You lie!' 'Not true' — and less on the substance of his speech, then Americans may not learn much." [WaPost's The Monkey Cage]

THE ISSUE ENVIRONMENT - TWO NEW NATIONAL POLLS - Pew Research finds priorities little changed from past years, with a few exceptions: "The Pew Research Center’s annual survey of policy priorities, conducted Jan. 15--19 among 1,504 adults, finds that the public’s agenda continues to be dominated by the economy (80% top priority), jobs (74%) and terrorism (73%). As in past years, the lowest-rated priorities are dealing with global warming (29%) and dealing with global trade (28%)....Deficit reduction had surged as a policy priority during Obama’s first term: Between 2009 and 2013, the share citing the deficit as a top priority rose 19 points. In the current survey, majorities of Republicans (80%) and independents (66%) continue to say reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority for the president and Congress. However, just 49% of Democrats view this as a top priority, the lowest percentage since Obama took office. A year ago, 67% of Democrats rated cutting the deficit as a top policy goal….While the budget deficit has fallen in importance among Democrats, another policy objective – dealing with the problems of the poor and needy – has declined as a top priority among Republicans. Just 32% of Republicans say dealing with the problems of poor and needy people should be a top priority for Obama and Congress, down 14 points since 2013 (46%)." Pew]

2014-01-27-PewDeficitReduction.png

Little trust in Obama, lawmakers - Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill: "Just 37 percent say they have either a good amount or a great deal of confidence in the president to make the right decisions for the country’s future while 63 percent say they do not. Those numbers are the mirror image of what they were when he was sworn into office in 2009 and lower than at any other time the question was asked by The Washington Post and ABC News….Confidence in Democrats and Republicans in Congress, however, is even lower than for President Obama. Twenty-seven percent say they have confidence in Democrats to make the right decisions for the country, while 72 percent do not, and just 19 percent have confidence in Republicans, while 80 percent do not. Almost half lack confidence in all three. For the GOP, the lack of faith in their decision-making includes their own followers. Just 36 percent of self-identified Republicans say they believe their party’s lawmakers will make good decisions. In contrast, a majority of Democrats have confidence in their congressional party." ABC/Post]

MORE SOTU-FOCUSED COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS:

-Brendan Nyhan offers reporters advice on how to cover the SOTU. [CJR]

-Seth Masket urges reporters to focus on "the ritual itself...the very public interplay between the president and the Congress." [Pacific Standard]

-Frank Newport says Americans want the speech to focus on the economy and fixing government. [Gallup]

-Drew DeSilver summarizes where Americans stand on 10 key issues likely to be discussed. [Pew Research]

-Democracy Corps (D) offers its take on what the recent poll numbers say about President Obama and Republicans in Congress. [DCorps]

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MONDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data that we missed during our holiday break (starting with a few
new items from today:

-Obama has a positive approval rating in just 11 states. [Gallup]

-Half of Americans are pro football fans. [AP]

-Most Americans worry about threats to their personal information online but few have reverted to paying with cash or checking their credit reports. [AP, topline]

-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has a 6-point lead over a potential Democratic rival. [Marquette]

-Rasmussen Reports gives Tillis (R) a 7-percentage point lead over Hagan (D) in North Carolina. [Rasmussen]

-John Sides' model gives the Republicans a 44 percent chance of taking the Senate. [WaPost's The Monkey Cage]

-Charlie Cook shows in one chart why Democrats are more exposed in U.S. House open seats. [Cook Political]

-A political science experiment in the UK shows that manipulating "dial test" reactions superimposed on an election debate influenced choice of prime minister and vote intentions. [PLOS One via @kwcollins]