Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Can SOTU Address Bump Obama’s Approval Ratings?

Summary: Tonight's address will set the stage for 2010 -- but how will if affect Obama's ratings?

Tonight President Obama will deliver his first State of the Union Address, although he has already addressed Congress twice before. According to pundit Howard Fineman, Obama’s test tonight will be whether or not he can win back America’s confidence.

His approval ratings could be worse, but they do suggest he is a polarizing president who has already spent the entirety of his political capital. According to Gallup, his approval rating is about 48% while his disapproval rating is about 47%.

Fineman also notes that there are “volumes of analysis written about the president are rife with the cliché that the guy’s career is made up of career-making or career-saving speeches.”

So can Obama give such a speech tonight?

If you pay attention to Gallup reports, you’ll agree the answer is “unlikely.” Hardly any presidents have managed to get significant bumps in the polls following their SOTU Address.

The only exception - really - was Bill Clinton’s 1998 SOTU Address, in which he announced one of the nation’s first surpluses in years just days after news broke about his affair with Monica Lewinski. The speech bumped his approval 10 points - up from 59% to 69%.

Most SOTU Addresses, however, don’t do that. In fact, the majority of presidents lose support after the speech, if anything.

Part of the reason approval is not expected to go up is because of who watches a SOTU Address - it’s almost always composed of more Americans who already support the president giving it.

In the two addresses Obama has made before Congress, his approval rating saw some upturn. The first - about a year ago - bumped him up 8%. But that was early in his presidency, before many Americans could get a firm opinion about him as a Commander-in-Chief. A lot has changed since then. His second - a healthcare focused speech - only gave him a 2% bump.

One interesting thing to watch will be how viewers react to the way he plans to take responsibility for the government’s shortcomings tonight. According to the New York Times (and probably other news outlets) the president is prepared to admit that his administration has made missteps.

Perhaps Americans will find it refreshing - the Bush Administration was usually reluctant to own up to mistakes - or perhaps it will confirm their skepticism about the new president.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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