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62% See State of the Union Speech As Just for Show

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A sizable majority of voters plan to watch or follow news reports about President Obama’s State of the Union speech tonight, but more voters than ever view the annual speech as just for show rather than setting an actual agenda.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 72% of Likely U.S. Voters are likely to watch or follow news reports about tonight’s State of the Union Speech. That’s virtually identical to last year’s findings  but down from the 79% who followed the speech in January 2011. Twenty-six percent (26%) are unlikely to watch or follow reports about the speech. This includes 45% who are Very Likely to watch or follow the speech and 10% who say it’s Not At All Likely. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Just 28% of voters think State of the Union speeches are important for setting the nation’s agenda for the next year. Sixty-two percent (62%) view them instead as mostly just for show, up nine points from 53% a year ago when the president delivered the first State of the Union speech following his reelection.

But then only 12% believe presidents generally accomplish most of what they promise in the speeches. Sixty-nine percent (69%) disagree and say most of what they promise is not accomplished. Eighteen percent (18%) are not sure. A year ago, the president put his emphasis on stricter gun control and immigration reform with a focus on putting those here illegally on the path to citizenship. He failed to get significant legislation on either topic through Congress.

This year, Obama is focusing on what he considers to be the growing problem of income inequality. Fourteen percent (14%) of voters agree with the president that income inequality should be the chief priority of his speech. But 31% say the president should emphasize the economy, down from 38% last year but still voters’ number one concern. A distant second is government spending which 17% think should be the chief priority of tonight’s speech. Fifteen percent (15%) say the emphasis should be on job creation. Ten percent (10%) want the president to focus on health care, while just four percent (4%) rate immigration as most important. Five percent (5%) feel Obama should zero in on something else.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) of voters agree with the president that income inequality is at least a somewhat serious problem in the United States today, with 45% who consider it a Very Serious problem. But 59% think less government involvement in the economy would do more to reduce income inequality than more government action. Thirty-seven percent (37%) rate the president’s handling of issues related to economic fairness as good or excellent. Forty-six percent (46%) say he’s doing a poor job in this area.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on January 25-26, 2014 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Obama’s daily job approval ratings have returned to levels seen for most of his presidency after falling to record lows in November and early December following the disastrous rollout of the new national health care law.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, the highest ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives, will deliver the GOP response following the president’s speech tonight. Fifty-five percent (55%) of voters say they are at least somewhat likely to watch or follow news reports about her speech. That’s down from the 62% who planned to watch or follow Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s response a year ago and includes just 26% who are Very Likely to watch or follow news reports about Rodgers’ speech.

Like most things related to the president in recent years, there’s a wide partisan gap when it comes to these questions. Sixty percent (60%) of Democrats are Very Likely to watch or follow news reports about the State of the Union speech, compared to 33% of Republicans and 39% of voters not affiliated with either major party. Republicans are more likely to watch Rodgers’ response than to watch Obama’s speech, but only 19% of Democrats and 23% of unaffiliateds are Very Likely to watch or follow what the congresswoman has to say.

By a 50% to 38% margin, voters in the president’s party think the State of the Union speech is important in terms of setting the national agenda for the next year. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of Republicans and 74% of unaffiliated voters believe the speech is mostly for show.

There’s general partisan agreement that the economy should be the priority in the president’s speech, but GOP voters believe that even more strongly than the others. Twenty-two percent (22%) of Democrats think Obama should emphasize income inequality, but just six percent (6%) of Republicans and 11% of unaffiliated voters agree.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of the Political Class feel the State of the Union speech sets the nation’s agenda. Seventy-three percent (73%) of Mainstream voters think it’s mostly just for show. But those in the Mainstream feel much more strongly than Political Class voters that presidents generally do not accomplish what they promise in the annual speeches.

Most voters continue to believe the U.S. economy is fair to women, blacks and Hispanics, but more than ever (66%) view the economy as unfair to the middle class.

Seventy-eight percent (78%) believe policies that encourage economic fairness are at least somewhat important, but that compares to 91% who view policies that encourage economic growth that way. When asked to choose between the two, 53% consider economic growth to be more important than economic fairness. Thirty-eight percent (38%) rate economic fairness as the more important of the two.

The president is expected to call for an increase in the minimum wage in his speech tonight. Most Americans favor raising the minimum wage but are almost evenly divided over whether that will help or hurt the economy.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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