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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democracy Corps Dial Testing: President Obama Scores With Middle Class Message — But Voters Skeptical That Washington, Including President, Can Actually Get Things Done

Dial testing and follow-up focus groups with 50 swing voters in Denver, Colorado show that President Obama’s populist defense of the middle class and their priorities in his State of the Union scored with voters. The President generated strong responses on energy, education and foreign policy, but most important, he made impressive gains on a range of economic measures. These swing voters, even the Republicans, responded enthusiastically to his call for a “Buffet Rule” that would require the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. As one participant put it, “I agree with his tax reform – the 1 percent should shoulder more of the burden than the other 99 percent. He [Obama] talked about being all for one, one for all – that really resonated for me.” These dial focus groups make it very clear that defending further tax cuts for those at the top of the economic spectrum puts Republicans in Congress and on the Presidential campaign trail well outside of the American mainstream.
These voters overwhelmingly liked what they heard from Obama– even those who voted against him in 2008 appreciated the address. But they continued to show deep skepticism that the President would be able to translate these words into actions. The more Democratic participants mostly blamed Republican obstructionism while the more Republican participants insisted that Obama might talk a good game, but his actions in office did not reflect the words in this speech. But participants across the political spectrum all agreed that Washington is broken and that progress on the important issues would be difficult until Congress addresses the corrupting influence of lobbyists and special interests.
This was not the easiest audience for Obama; although slightly more participants voted for him than McCain in 2008, it was a significantly Republican-leaning group (44 percent Republican, 32 percent Democratic). At the outset, these voters were split 50/50 on Obama’s job performance and just 50 percent gave him a favorable personal rating. But the President gained ground after the speech; his job rating rose 8 points and his personal standing jumped 16 points, to 66 percent favorable.

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