state of the union address

Live State of the Union Polling: Mixed News for a Divisive President

U.S. President Donald Trump, center, arrives to deliver a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.
U.S. president Donald Trump, center, arrives to deliver a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, February 4, 2020. Photo: ANDREW_HARRER/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In what could be his last State of the Union address, Donald Trump spoke glowingly of the economic boom he’d created. But his rhetoric isn’t persuading anyone outside his core base, according to live polling conducted by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg. Two-hundred eighty people participated in the dial test, which was commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers. Greenberg identified participants by seven demographic subgroups: African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, white millennials, white unmarried women, white working-class women, and white working-class men. Polling measured attitudes toward Trump before, during, and after the speech to provide better insight into how the president’s rhetoric influences voters in real time. New York watched a live read of the dial test, and spoke to Greenberg after the conclusion of the polling.

Voter reaction to the State of the Union address can foreshadow a president’s chances of reelection. While Trump still has an edge as the incumbent, there are signs that he may have more trouble than most hanging onto the White House. Below are some major takeaways from Tuesday’s polling:

Trump is a uniquely divisive president.

“If you look at his approval pre- and post-speech, it went up by ten,” Greenberg said. “But when we looked at Obama’s speeches, it went up by 20. And [Bill] Clinton, comparably.” Moreover, Greenberg explained, the small bump Trump does receive after each State of the Union address has remained relatively stagnant over time: “It went up by seven last year, and by nine in 2018. So it’s almost identical to previous speeches,” he added. Based on pre-speech polling questions and live dial-testing, white working class men and women are still more likely than other groups to be broadly supportive of Trump and his rhetoric, though a gender divide was visible after the conclusion of the address. Pre-speech, 55 percent of white working-class women said they strongly or somewhat approved of the president; afterward, 53 percent said they still felt the same way. White working class men reported identical levels of pre-speech support for the president — 55 percent, again — but fully 60 percent said they strongly or somewhat supported the president by the end of the night.

Other groups felt less warmly about Trump. Thirty-one percent of Latinos said they strongly or somewhat supported the president before his speech, and that figure increased to 39 percent post-speech. Eleven percent of African-Americans supported the president before the speech; that figure jumped to 38 percent by the speech’s end, but according to Greenberg’s dial test, members of this demographic were notably turned off by some sections of Trump’s speech. The president’s America First language “really almost offended African-Americans,” Greenberg said.

Voters believe Trump is an out-of-touch plutocrat … who has produced a working-class economic boom.

Trump used Tuesday’s State of the Union to boast of a “blue collar boom” occurring during his presidency. But that rhetoric didn’t really increase his favorability with voters. The overall number of participants who said they agreed that Trump is “out of touch with working people” remained consistent: 52 percent before the speech, 52 percent after the speech. Latinos and African-Americans were the likeliest of all demographic groups to agree with the statement, both pre- and post-speech.

But participants overall felt more warmly toward Trump’s specific claim of “producing a working-class economic boom.” Forty-six percent felt this statement described the president well before the speech, and by the end, 57 percent agreed. White millennials reported a particularly large increase in favorability. Before the speech, 47 percent said they believed Trump was creating a working-class economic boom. That figure jumped to 72 percent by the end of the night.

It wasn’t all good news for Trump. White working-class women were more skeptical of the president’s claims. Fifty-nine percent believed that Trump had created the boom of his boasts before the speech, and by the end of it, that figure had only increased by two points to 61 percent. While that still reflects broad levels of support for the president among white working-class women, a gender divide resurfaces here. White working-class men were again more likely to believe the president’s claims: 63 percent said that Trump had created a working class boom before the speech, and 68 percent felt the same way afterward. Latinos and African-Americans were much less likely to believe Trump’s central claim of the night.

Asked if Trump is “governing for billionaires and big money elites,” 62 percent of all participants agreed, and 63 percent felt the same way after the speech. Seventy-eight percent of African-Americans agreed with the same statement pre-speech; 72 percent reported feeling the same way by the end of the night. Among white working-class people, 58 percent of women believed that Trump governed for the rich post-speech, and 61 percent of men agreed.

That’s bad news for Trump, but better news for unions like AFT, who oppose his reelection. “Whether it’s escalating health-care costs, medical debt, student debt, tax cuts for the wealthy or vouchers in lieu of a lack of investment in schools, the president refuses to solve the issues affecting working people,” Randi Weingarten, the president of AFT, said in a statement. “There are numerous bills right now in the House that could help, but that he chooses to ignore. So it’s no surprise that the vast majority of Americans feel the economy is rigged against them.”

Voters split on Trump’s commitment to health care along racial lines.

Fifty-one percent of all participants agreed that Trump is making health care more affordable after the conclusion of his address. That figure had increased over the course of the night; only 32 percent agreed with the same sentiment pre-speech. But the final figure doesn’t indicate resounding levels of public confidence in Trump’s health-care claims. Participants were similarly ambivalent about Trump’s commitment to protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Fifty percent overall said they trusted Trump to protect the three entitlement programs by the end of the night. Thirty-three percent of Latinos agreed, as did 36 percent of African-Americans. Those figures almost doubled among white working class men and women. After the speech, 61 percent of white working class women said they trusted Trump to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; 58 percent of white working-class men agreed.

Trump’s immigration policies remain popular with white voters.

White millennials and white working-class men and women all reported broad levels of support for Trump’s stance on immigration. Fifty-eight percent of white working-class men said the president had the “right approach to immigration” before the speech, and 63 percent agreed afterward. Pre-speech figures on the same question were 54 percent for white working-class women, 49 percent for white college-educated women, and 42 percent for white millennials. Post-speech, those percentages increased to 69 percent for white millennials, 56 percent for white college-educated women, and 66 percent for white working-class women.

White unmarried women were a notable exception to the rule. Before the speech, 30 percent supported Trump’s approach to immigration. After it, 39 percent agreed.

Overall, there are fissures in Trump’s white working-class support. Though the white working class remains largely supportive of Trump, the president’s support among white working-class women appears to be soft. That may give Democrats an important opening in November.

State of the Union Live Poll Carries Mixed News for Trump