State of the Union watchers think Obama's speech was better than last year's. Few Americans tuned in but those that did were active on social media. And the margin of error is overrated. This is HuffPollster for Wednesday, January 21, 2015.
STATE OF THE UNION WATCHERS GAVE IT A POSITIVE RATING - HuffPollster: "Americans who watched President Barack Obama's State of the Union address largely approved, giving him better marks than they did for last year's speech, according to instant polling conducted by CNN. Positive ratings from State of the Union watchers are the rule, not the exception. CNN found Obama getting high marks in all five annual State of the Union speeches they previously polled (the network didn't conduct a post-State of the Union poll in 2012). Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also received largely positive ratings. Eighty-one percent of viewers had a somewhat positive or very positive opinion of the 2015 State of the Union, according to CNN -- up from 76 percent in 2014, and in line with ratings for Obama's speeches in 2011 and 2013. Obama devoted much of his speech to what he referred to as 'middle-class economics,'…Voters in the 2014 election largely supported the idea of a minimum wage hike, and, regardless of party, largely agreed that income inequality was increasing. But partisans divided over the importance of the issue: Democrats were 56 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say the minimum wage was somewhat or very important, and 45 points more likely to say income inequality didn't get enough attention." [HuffPost, more from CNN]
Similar findings from MSNBC/SurveyMonkey - Jon Cohen, on a poll of 651 survey watchers pulled from the SurveyMonkey panel: "For one night at least, President Obama’s ambitious agenda received broad public praise, according to an MSNBC/SurveyMonkey online survey. Big majorities of those tuning into his second to last State of the Union address were happy with his speech, supportive of the direction he’s taking the country, and approving of his plan to shift more of the tax burden to the wealthy….Seventy-three percent of those tuning into the president’s speech said they were either enthusiastic or satisfied with the proposals he laid out. By 2 to 1 (64 to 32 percent), they favored his plans to have high-income Americans pay more to fund new programs aimed at middle-class families. Still, nearly half wished he had spent more time talking about their own top issue, and more than a third of those tuning in—including most Republican watchers—said the president’s proposals will do more to divide than unite the country. Thirty-eight percent of the speech-watchers in this survey identified themselves as Democrats, just 16 percent as Republicans, continuing a tradition where the president’s fellow partisans are more apt than those in the opposing party to tune into the annual address." [SurveyMonkey]
Facebook reports on SOTU 'interaction' - The company emailed data to HuffPollster and other media outlets showing 5.7 million Facebook users posted 13.8 million "interactions" (defined as likes, posts, comments and shares) related to the President's address both before and after speech on January 20. Not surprisingly, the company reported that President Obama's off-the-cuff quip reaction to Republicans applauding his comment that he has no more campaigns to run -- "I know, cause I won both of 'em" -- resulted in more engagement than any other aspect of the address. The demographics of the interactions also differed before and after the address: Those interacting before the speech tilted to the oldest age and gender groups (in order of engagement: women 65+, men 65+, men 55-64, women 55-64, men 45-54), while those interacting during the address tilted younger (in order: women 35-49, men 35-49, men 18-34, women 18-34, men 50+). Women were also more likely to engage on the issue of community college. That issue ranked first among women, third among men.
State of the Union rarely affects presidential approval - HuffPollster: "There's a long precedent of the speeches failing to have much of an impact. Most of the speeches delivered since the Carter administration have had only a negligible effect on how the president delivering them was viewed. It's difficult to change minds when most people aren't tuning in. While 45 percent of Americans told HuffPost last year they planned to watch the 2014 State of the Union, in a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, just 26 percent said they ended up actually watching. Only 15 percent say they watched the entire speech, while the rest saw parts of it or watched clips later on the news. Just 4 percent, including 11 percent of those who watched the whole thing, say they remember last year's speech very well." [HuffPost]
Who are the middle class? - Josh Zumbrun: "In major campaign speeches and addresses–like the State of the Union address–politicians love to talk about the 'middle class.' Just who is in the middle class? The term has no formal economic definition, and that’s one reason politicians use it. Polls and surveys have asked Americans if they identify as middle-class. The Pew Research Center found that 44% of Americans identify as middle-class–down 9% since 2008–but it excludes those who identify as lower-middle-class or upper-middle-class from their tally. The Gallup Organization has asked a similar question. In a 2012 version of the question, 42% identified as middle-class and 13% identified as upper-middle class. An additional 31% said they are working-class. In a 2013 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, respondents were asked to identify what annual income they considered to be middle-class. Somewhat amusingly, every group with earnings between $30,000 and $100,000 was most likely to identify whatever their own income was as middle-class. That helps explain why politicians love the term so much–no matter how you ask the question, most Americans identify pretty closely with the middle class." [WSJ]
ECONOMIC PERCEPTIONS DEPEND HEAVILY ON PARTISANSHIP - Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill: "As President Obama and congressional Republicans reengage over economic issues, Americans offer a gloomy assessment of the state of the nation. But those perceptions appear to be heavily influenced by political identification and partisan leanings, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Fifty-seven percent of Americans describe the state of the country in negative terms. But while three-quarters of self-identified Republicans and 6 in 10 independents say the condition of the nation is either 'not so good' or 'poor,' 6 in 10 Democrats say it is either 'good' or 'excellent.'... while Democrats say they are better off by a margin of about 3 to 1, Republicans say the opposite by the same margin. Among those who say they are generally better off, with incomes of $75,000 and above, the partisan gap is even larger. [WashPost]
WITHER THE 'MARGIN OF ERROR'? -Four political scientists who track polling on the U.K. elections -- Robert Ford, Will Jennings, Mark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien -- offer their views on an ongoing debate among pollsters: "One of the typical explanations put forward for polls that are surprising or contradictory is ‘margin of error’. The idea that there is a known likelihood of the observed result for any given poll being within a few points of the actual value for the entire population - depending on the size of the sample....But the margin of error is only applicable to random sampling error, and none of the opinion polls reported in the media today could be described as pure random probability polls. At a minimum, samples are reweighted to be representative of the demographics of the general population, while pollsters must deal with potential for systematic errors introduced by non-response (e.g. those in the population who do not answer their phones or do not own them at all). Internet pollsters, in particular, must account for their samples being self-selecting and likely more educated and wealthier than the general population....We are able to calculate systematic differences in response patterns across pollsters, but this does not tell us whether what looks like a rogue poll is simply down to sample error (and bad luck for the pollster.) Or due to a systematic error in the way that public opinion is being measured. All this makes it imperative to treat individual polls with healthy caution, and look at an aggregation of polls across polling houses, as we do with the Polling Observatory." [Significance]
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WEDNESDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Ben Casselman charts the State of the Union. 
-Lynn Vavreck says some studies shows the heartwarming stories featured by politicians actually work. [NYT]
-Nick Beauchamp creates a "plot map" of words frequency during the SOTU that captures "the trajectory of the speech through its ideas over time." [WashPost]
-The two most common words to describe Barack Obama: "good" and "incompetent." [Pew]
-Mitt Romney's empathy problems resembles those of all Republicans, Harry Enten argues. 
-A year after Bridgegate, Chris Christie's NJ approval rating still falls below 50 percent. [Quinnipiac]
-PPP fields its first poll of the year in Pennsylvania. [PPP]
-Andrew Gelman doesn't buy a question on labeling food "containing DNA." [WashPost]
-The voters Democrats need to win still are downbeat about the economy, Greg Sargent warns. [WashPost]
-Micah Roberts and Martin Shull (R) see opportunities for President Obama to work with Republicans in results of the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. [POS]
-Mark Mellman (D) reviews polling on raising taxes on the wealthy. [The Hill]
-The White House tried to make the State of the Union address more interactive. [Vox]
-Jefrey Pollock (D) shares 10 lessons he learned working with the legendary consultant, David Garth. [C&E]