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
First, bounces are rare.
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
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
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.