Dial testing and follow-up discussions with 50 swing voters in Denver, Colorado showed that President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union struck a powerful chord as he described his economic vision for the country. Following the speech, voters gave the President impressive assessments on key economic measures and were especially drawn to the President’s emphasis on three of the themes he emphasized in his speech; innovation, education, and America’s competitiveness in the future. As one of these swing voters put it, “the future belongs to the people who make the what and the how.”
Despite their strong response to the State of the Union, these swing voters remain skeptical about Washington’s ability to deliver and are hungry for tangible changes in the economy. The President’s references to the nation’s past accomplishments and his description of how we must invest in small businesses and out-innovate to create tomorrow’s jobs helped overcome this skepticism, but getting past their skepticism will clearly be a central challenge.
This was a difficult audience for Obama, yet his speech largely won them over. It was a heavily Republican-leaning group (48 percent Republican, 18 percent Democratic) that split their votes in 2008 (48 percent Obama, 48 percent McCain) but had moved away from the President over the past two years. At the outset, majorities expressed disapproval with his job performance and unfavorable views of him on a personal level.
Despite this Republican tilt, Obama saw significant shifts in his overall standing — larger even than after his well-received State of the Union address last year. His overall job approval among these voters jumped by 26 points (10 points more than he gained last year) while his personal standing flipped from decidedly cool (30 percent warm versus 62 percent cool) to much warmer (52 percent warm, 27 percent cool).
A more detailed analysis of these results can be found at Democracy Corps (www.democracycorps.org).