Much of Washington seemed to have a problem with President Obama's State of the Union speech. Republicans didn't like much about it, focusing their criticisms on the still-terrible economy and the burdens of Obamacare. Democrats, of course, supported the president, but some wouldn't even say whether they would like the increasingly-unpopular president to help them campaign this November. Some liberals wanted to hear a more far-reaching, assertive progressive agenda. And much of the media was bored by the whole thing.
That's all fine, but what about the people to whom the speech was actually directed? It's too early to have a good picture of the voters' reaction, and even then, it's fair to point out that reaction to a single speech is almost always short-lived. But there are some indications that voters — or more specifically, the swing voters who sometimes play outsized roles in elections — liked what they heard.
The Democratic research group Democracy Corps, founded by Clinton veterans James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, conducted a focus group with 44 swing voters in Denver during and after the president's speech. Democracy Corps -- which in the past has not hesitated to issue warnings to Democrats when voters were turned off by the party's positions and actions -- concluded that Obama's call for a "year of action" was "well-received by voters." The president, Democracy Corps continued, "made major gains on having good plans for the economy, looking out for the middle class, and looking out for the interest of women. And in focus groups following the speech, voters gave him high marks on his push for paycheck fairness, minimum wage, education, student loans, and job training."
Before the speech, just 29 percent of the voters' group said Obama "has good plans for the economy." Afterward, 57 percent said the president has good economic plans. Before the speech, 44 percent said they believed Obama was "looking out for the middle class." After the speech, that number was 64 percent.
The Democracy Corps group responded well to Obama's appeal to raise the minimum wage, particularly his line that "no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty." In dial tests, Democracy Corps reports, "lines among Democrats and unmarried women spiked to 80 and Republican lines jumped to 60."
The same was true of Obama's discussion of raising pay for women. Obama's words were "met with intense and near-universal approval," Democracy Corps writes. "The Democrats' line and unmarried women's line spiked off the chart, ending up near 100 on our scale. Even Republicans reached well over 75."
Overall, Democracy Corps report noted that Obama "made impressive gains on his personal favorability, improving from net -2 (48 percent warm, 50 percent cool) to net +27 (64 percent warm, 37 percent cool.) On this key metric — voters’ personal feelings toward the president — he clearly won our audience in Denver."
There were things the swing voters didn't like about Obama's speech. Most importantly, his "continued celebration of economic gains does not ring true to them," Democracy Corps concluded. Also, they remain skeptical of Obama's ability to follow through on his words. And his I'm-right-you're-wrong rhetoric on climate change was divisive.
But the bottom line is that the group in Colorado — swing voters in a swing state — responded much more positively to the substance of Obama's speech than the horde of lawmakers, aides, tweeters and talkers in Washington. That is something Republicans in particular should note as they shape their agenda for 2014 and campaign in the months before this November's elections.