Americans who tuned into Donald Trump’s speech to Congress last Tuesday mostly didn’t see it as a departure from his past rhetoric or actions, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, with even fewer expecting it to lead to the “pivot” periodically promised by pundits since he first clinched the Republican nomination.
A 52 percent majority of Americans who watched Trump’s address, or who followed the subsequent news coverage, say that the tone and content of the speech were similar to most of what he’s said and done since becoming president, with just 33 percent saying the speech’s tone and content differed from his previous actions.
Among the third who did see the speech as a break from the past, 51 percent expected Trump to go back to the way he usually behaves, while just 36 percent thought he would continue to behave the way he did during his speech.
While a majority of voters who supported Trump, and of those who sat out last year’s election, saw the speech as in keeping with his usual behavior, those who voted for Hillary Clinton were split ― 41 percent thought the speech was similar to Trump’s past statements and actions, while 44 percent saw it as different. Still, just over a tenth of Clinton voters who saw Trump’s speech as a departure thought it was anything but a temporary one.
While the public didn’t see the speech as representing a tonal shift, it received a largely positive reception. A 57 percent majority of those who watched Trump’s speech or followed subsequent news coverage approve, with just 34 percent disapproving. Fifty-one percent say the speech spent enough time focusing on the issues they care about most, while 28 percent say it spent too much time on other issues.
Presidential addresses historically have tended to get high marks, for a pretty simple reason ― people who like the president to begin with are more likely to watch. During Barack Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s tenures, this meant Democrats made up a disproportionate share of the audience for States of the Union and similar speeches, while during George W. Bush’s time in office, it meant Republicans were overrepresented. This is true of last week’s speech as well: Trump’s approval rating, for instance, was 7 points higher among those who paid attention to the address than it was among the full sample of Americans in the poll.
As past speeches have shown, the State of the Union and similar speeches typically have, at best, a modest impact on public opinion. As HuffPost Pollster noted last year:
State of the Union speeches have a celebrated history of not making much of an impact. A 2010 Gallup analysis found that the speeches delivered since the beginning of the Carter administration resulted, on average, in a “less than a 1 percentage-point decline” in presidential approval.
Bill Clinton, the biggest exception, gave his most successful speech “just days after news broke of his alleged affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky,” according to Gallup.
Most Americans simply aren’t watching the addresses, let alone paying close attention to the content. In a 2015 HuffPost/YouGov poll, about one-quarter said they’d watched the previous State of the Union, and only 4 percent reported remembering it very well. (Given people’s predilection to pretend they’re paying more attention to civic events than they are, those numbers are likely a little high.)
The people most likely to tune in to watch any president are also those least likely to need any convincing.
Close to half of those who watched or followed coverage of the speech say it had no impact on their opinion of Trump’s actions as president, the HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, with a similar percentage saying it didn’t affect their views of his temperament. Reactions split largely along partisan lines, with a majority of Trump voters who tuned in saying the address improved their views of Trump. Clinton voters mainly reported that their opinions of the president were unaffected.
Use the widget below to further explore the results of HuffPost/YouGov’s survey:
Other surveys released since Trump’s address last week have found generally similar results, with the speech garnering positive reactions but doing relatively little to shift overall opinions of the president. “Snap polls” from CNN/ORC and CBS/YouGov of viewers who agreed to be polled after the speech found that 57 and 76 percent, respectively, of the Republican-heavy audience gave it positive marks. Gallup reported that 57 percent of Americans who watched the speech or followed news coverage about it rated it as excellent or good, with results sharply divided along partisan lines.
“Speech watchers skewed Republican, so to some degree this positive reaction reflects the friendly nature of Trump’s audience,” Gallup’s Frank Newport wrote. “Democrats who watched were not necessarily hostile in their reactions, but rather were most likely to say that the speech was just OK and that it made no difference in their views of Trump as president ― views that of course were strongly negative to begin with.”
A Monmouth University poll released Monday found that most Americans’ confidence in Trump was not affected by the speech ― and that the president’s approval rating budged little in the following days, after the news cycle moved on to coverage of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ interactions with Russia.
“The public seems to be much more measured in its response to the daily tumult that is the Trump administration than most pundits are,” Monmouth’s polling director, Patrick Murray, wrote.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted March 2-3 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.
The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.