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Americans Want Specifics, Not Vision, in Obama's Speech

Americans Want Specifics, Not Vision, in Obama's Speech

Partisans agree on goals and prospects for State of the Union proposals

PRINCETON, NJ -- By more than 2 to 1 -- 58% vs. 27% -- Americans would prefer that President Barack Obama use his State of the Union address mainly to make specific proposals for Congress to pass this year, rather than to outline his broad vision for the direction of the country. Republicans, independents, and Democrats share this view.

Preferred Focus for President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address, January 2012

Most Americans -- 66% -- believe Congress will pass only a few of whatever proposals Obama makes in his speech, while one in four think some or more than half will pass. Democrats are only slightly more optimistic than others about Obama's prospects for success. Thirty percent of Democrats believe more than a few of his proposals will pass, compared with 24% of independents and 23% of Republicans.

Prediction for How Many of Obama's Proposals Will Pass, January 2012

Americans Want Obama to Address Jobs and Economy

Americans' directive for which topics Obama should emphasize Tuesday night is unambiguous. When asked to say which of five possible areas is most important for the president to focus on, two-thirds choose "jobs and the economy." The federal budget deficit ranks a distant second, selected by 17%, followed by 11% choosing healthcare. Relatively few Americans, 4% each, believe it is most important for Obama to talk about national security or moral values issues.

Topic President Obama Should Emphasize in His State of the Union Address, January 2012

Majorities in all three party groups say jobs and the economy is the most important issue for Obama to address; however, while the overwhelming majority of Democrats (73%) choose it, barely half of Republicans (53%) do the same.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to name the federal budget deficit (23% vs. 9%), as well as national security. Independents fall about halfway between the major party groups on the economy, the deficit, and national security.

The overall ranking of issues largely corresponds with Americans' relative concern about the scope of problems in each area. Recent Gallup polling found 83% of Americans dissatisfied with the state of the economy, while two-thirds were dissatisfied with healthcare and majorities were satisfied with the nation's defense and security from terrorism. (Satisfaction with the federal budget deficit was not measured in that poll.) The one issue that doesn't square is moral values. It is hardly mentioned as one of the key issues for Obama to focus on in his speech, even though a large majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the nation's moral and ethical climate.

Bottom Line

Presidents often use their annual State of the Union address to articulate the overarching goals and principles that guide their presidency, or to rally Americans around a new political paradigm or cause. This year, Americans know what they want to hear -- a speech focused on the economy, not vision -- and they want Obama to propose specific solutions that Congress can consider this year, even if few will pass. Fundamentally, Americans want the president to be engaged on the issues and stay singularly focused on repairing the economy.

Obama is expected to devote some of his speech to detailing the ways in which the economy has already improved on his watch. His challenge is that, currently, Americans' economic outlook remains negative, with 37% believing the economy is on the mend and the majority, 57%, saying it is getting worse. Turning that around could be critical to his chances for re-election, regardless of any credit Americans give him for proposing new economic policies.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 18, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,005 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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