Rob Horowitz: State of the Union: Obama’s Chance to Set the Agenda
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
While State of the Union Addresses receive saturation media coverage, a review by Gallup of the past 5 Presidents shows, with few exceptions, little change in approval ratings as a result of the speech. President Obama is no exception to this general rule, with little or no movement in his approval ratings after his previous State of the Union speeches Given plentiful other viewing options, ratings for the State of the Union have also declined. Only about 34 million people watched President Obama deliver the State of the Union Address last year and audience size usually shrinks the longer a president is in office.
Wind at His Back
Still, tonight’s State of the Union Address, gives President Obama an opportunity to set the public agenda and make the case for his priorities—to focus the public on what issues are most important to address. Research shows that on this important goal, State of the Union addresses can have lasting impacts.
And in focusing on expanding opportunity and reducing inequality, as advance previews by members of his Administration indicate he will do, President Obama will have the wind at his back. More than 6 in 10 Americans, including a majority of Republicans, say that the “gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years,” according to a recent Pew Research Center and USA TODAY poll. The same poll shows that nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe that government should do something to close this gap, and this includes more than 4 in 10 Republicans.
The recent Republican response on the question of increasing inequality is telling. Instead of simply crying class warfare or emphasizing the importance of not punishing ‘job creators’ as they have in the past, they are adopting a new tact, attacking Obama for making the problem of inequality worse and beginning to come forward with their own policies to address the issue.
Given partisan gridlock in Congress, President Obama is going to focus some of the speech on the actions he will take through Executive Orders. His increased and understandable emphasis on unilateral executive action is highlighted by his appointment of John Podesta, who devised and implemented this strategy as Chief of Staff to President Clinton and has publicly advocated that Obama adopt this approach, as a White House Counselor.
There also may be some room opening up for legislative accomplishments. The recent budget agreement signals the increased power of Speaker Boehner(R-OH) and his leadership team who are more open to compromise and the declining influence of the more hard line Tea Party members. One strong possibility is a compromise agreement on immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as children and legal status to those who came here as adults.
Despite a difficult 2013 with few legislative accomplishments and a disastrous initial roll out of Obamacare, President Obama’s approval rating has rebounded to 46% in a recent Washington Post Poll.
The American people still personally like him and are still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt He is also going to reap some political benefit this year from an improving economy. . Tonight’s State of the Union will focus needed attention on his goals for this year to an audience that will be certainly smaller, but mainly still willing to listen. I urge everyone to watch.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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