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State of the Union, Hillary Clinton, Super Bowl

by Frank Newport, Editor in Chief
The Gallup Poll

State of the Union

David Moore reported on our instant-reaction poll of State of the Union speech watchers from Tuesday night. As usual, the audience skewed toward the party of the president, with a 2-1 ratio of Republicans to Democrats in our sample. In other words, the president was, to some degree, preaching to the choir Tuesday night.

The data show that 48% of speech watchers had a very positive reaction to the speech. That ranks near the bottom of the list of ratings taken after other George W. Bush State of the Union speeches. In short, the speech wasn't a home run by any means, but also not a total bomb.

The real impact of the speech may not be known for days. Many Americans who didn't watch the speech will hear about it in the days to come as news reports rehash it and television news shows highlight short clips. But it's not very likely that it will have a dramatic effect on the president's approval ratings. An analysis by Gallup's Jeff Jones shows that more times than not, there is little significant change in approval ratings before and after a State of the Union address.

Hillary Clinton

The networks' cameras cut away to reaction shots from New York Sen. Hillary Clinton quite often during Bush's speech. That's not surprising. She, along with perhaps Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, is the most famous member of either congressional body.

Clinton is certainly going to be one of the most "in the news" people in the world in the next several years. She's running for re-election in New York this year, of course, and after that will have to make an official announcement of her intentions regarding the 2008 presidential race. Most observers would be shocked if she decided not to run for president.

Like her husband, Sen. Clinton is a polarizing political figure. Thus, it is not surprising to find that she generates significant negatives. A recent Gallup Poll shows 51% of registered voters saying they would definitely not vote for her. That poll received a lot of attention, including in-depth discussion on such shows as Hardball on MSNBC and Meet the Press on NBC, the Rush Limbaugh radio program, The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News, and so forth.

What's been overlooked (but not by Gallup's David Moore in his analysis) is that in the same poll, 46% of those interviewed said they would definitely not vote for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice if she ran for president. We did not ask this question about Sen. John Kerry, as another example, but it would not be surprising to find that a significant percentage of voters say they would definitely not vote for him again.

In other words, it's fair to say Clinton's negatives are, in essence, already established and that's why she already generates a relatively high degree of "will not vote" sentiment. Most other candidates for president will not have undergone the intense national scrutiny that Clinton has endured over the last 14 years, so they will start out with a more positive positioning. By the time of the November 2008 election, however, the playing field will be more equal, and at that point, it will be of great importance to see what has happened to the images of the major candidates.

By the way, this is the first presidential election since 1928 in which neither party has an incumbent president or vice president attempting to get his party's nomination. We are thus facing a rare election year with a wide-open field in both parties. This will increase interest in the primary process in 2008. Interest in the 2008 election will be particularly high if Clinton runs (and even more so if another woman -- say Rice -- were to run against her).

Super Bowl

It's Super Bowl time again, and as usual we've been looking at some fascinating data on Americans' projected viewing behaviors.

I was struck first by the simple fact that almost two-thirds of Americans (64%) plan on watching. This of course provides demonstrable evidence for why advertisers are willing to pay so much for commercials. It's one of the few times a year when a big percentage of all American households can be reached with one advertisement. Precisely 34% of Americans say they will not be watching. Who are these grumps? Well, there is not nearly as much variation across demographic categories as one might imagine. We couldn't find any group in which more than half said they would not be watching.

One's first instinct -- based on the usual stereotypes -- might be to hypothesize that women will be much less likely than men to watch. The fact that many of the commercials during the Super Bowl will be aimed at men reinforces that notion. The data clearly do show that men are more likely to be watching than women -- but it's not as if women are all going to be out to the movies during the game. The data show that more than half -- 54% -- of women claim they will be watching.

What about age? I found it surprising that there was not as much variation within age categories as might be expected. To be sure, younger Americans are somewhat more likely than those who are older to say they will watch, but the differences are not huge. In fact, 60% of those 65 and older will be watching, just a few percentage points below the overall national average.

There are income differences. Those with higher incomes are more likely to watch than those with lower incomes. This, too, may help explain why Super Bowl commercials are so valuable to advertisers, who almost always prefer an audience with plenty of discretionary income.

There is no statistically significant difference in planned viewing behaviors between Republicans and Democrats; although independents -- perhaps as removed from social aspects of life as they are from partisan politics -- are slightly less likely to say they are going to watch than are those who affiliate with one of the two major parties.

I was intrigued by the data on the number of people with whom Americans say they will be watching. Young people are clearly into communal viewing behavior, with large percentages of those under age 50 saying they will be watching with five or more people. Perhaps sadly, older Americans are much more likely to be watching alone. Twenty-five percent of those aged 65 and older who will be watching the game say they will be watching alone.

Gallup did not have the right timing of our polls this year to be able to ask fans who they thought would win. So I went looking for other polls that did ask fans for their prognostications. I came across a poll published in the Pacific Daily News, which lauds itself as "Guam's Complete News Source". The paper reports that seven in eight Guam residents predict Seattle will win. But upon closer scrutiny, it appears that this is really not a poll at all, but rather a series of person-on-the-street interviews, so I wouldn't put much stock in the results.

Just as interesting -- but no more legitimate -- is the Scripps Howard News Service Celebrity Super Bowl Poll that found that most celebrities they interviewed believe Pittsburgh will win, including Jamie Foxx, Jack Nicklaus, Sen. John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, and Mickey Rooney. Seahawk fans? Bill Gates (who is a Seattle native and really didn't have a lot of choice, particularly because his erstwhile business partner Paul Allen owns the Seahawks), Ed Asner, and Martina Navratilova.


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