Live Focus Group: Trump 2019 SOTU Was Mostly A Dud

Live Focus Group: Trump 2019 SOTU Was Mostly A Dud


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Donald Trump’s much awaited post-federal shutdown State of the Union address failed to deliver much political goodwill or bounce, according to a carefully recruited focus group registering their reactions to Trump’s speech in real-time using a live-dial method.

The political non-profit organization Democracy Corps conducted live dial-meter testing of the 2019 State of the Union address among the so-called “Rising American Electorate”(African Americans, Latinos, white unmarried women, and white millennials), as well as white working class women, and white college women.

Here are some of the key findings, according to a memo Democracy Corps released to detail the focus group findings:

  • The level of engagement is at levels never seen before. Voters, including those in the dial meter group watched Trump’s address with an extraordinary high level of political engagement, measured by the percent who say they are “almost certain to vote” in the 2020 election. The Rising American Electorate (people of color, unmarried women and millennials) is already more engaged than in the month before the highest midterm turnout election since World War I. African Americans, Latinos, and white millennials are near 100 percent on vote certainty, up by 20 to 30 points from the comparable point last year, and white unmarried women are up 24 points.
  • The Democratic presidential vote was not eroded and Trump’s job performance gains were unimpressive. The post-SOTU bump in Trump’s job performance was as modest as it was among Rising American Electorate voters in 2017, one of the smallest post-SOTU shifts for a first term president in the organization’s experience dial testing. White millennials, Latinos, and African Americans produced the same modest gains they did in 2018 and 2017, but the white college women remained resolute in their opposition, with virtually no movement on Trump’s performance.

“The president did make bigger gains with the [Rising American Electorate] on his personal favorability, but that was probably the result of the empathy he showed for the many presidential guests and his surprising support for women, affordable health care and paid family leave,” says the Democracy Corps memo.

  • Trump has lost the immigration battle. The president made immigration and border security the central pitch of his address last night, yet his post-SOTU shift on handling immigration was no bigger than last year’s. He did get a warm response from African Americans and Latinos when praising legal immigration, but even white working-class women were turned off by his exaggerated claims about the danger of the border and migrant caravans. If the goal was to create a new context for a possible shutdown or emergency declaration with this address, then the president failed. The Rising American Electorate voters were only 13 points more favorable towards ‘a wall at the southern border’ at the end of the night (30 to 43 percent warm) which is not significantly better than the temporary gains he made with last year’s address (29 to 39 percent, +9 warmer). At the end of the night, just 32 percent said Trump was doing what was best for the country when it came to the shutdown over the wall.
  • The biggest gains of the night were on making health care more affordable, but beware of fake promises. President Trump’s commitments to guaranteeing protections for pre-existing medical conditions and to reducing prescription drug prices led everyone to dial up their lines, particularly white work- ing-class women and white unmarried women. Trump’s gains on health care affordability were the big- gest of the night and twice as large as his SOTU-improvement on the issue last year (+12 shift on ‘will make health care affordable’ in 2018 v. +23 shift this year among the Rising American Electorate). But when he tried to say that drug costs declined at a record low rate, the lines took a hit. Voters showed they will only reward results.
  • Trump saw a rise by recognizing women in the workplace and in Congress. Trump’s recognition of working women, his commitment to paid family leave, and his mention of the historic number of women in the Congress produced some of the highest points in the dials across all groups during the speech. The Democratic women in white who stood in recognition of their progress provided an exciting moment to the white millennials who otherwise were the most immovable focus group. At the end of the night, Trump improved 20 points on being ‘good for women,’ much better than the 5-point shift among these Rising American Electorate voters over the course of last year’s address. But the pollsters suspect they were driven more by the celebrations of the Democratic women, and the president playing along, than anything about his agenda or specific plans. And again, these gains come with the risk he will never support any of these policies that would help working families.
  • Criminal justice reform delivered a massive boost. The white millennials and African Americans in the group went from hovering below 50 all evening to through the roof when they heard the president introduce former inmate Alice Johnson (pardoned by Trump) and the bipartisan First Step Act, a criminal justice reform law. But to be sure, Trump ended the night in roughly the same place as he did last year among African Americans, with roughly 8-in-10 disapproving. Notably, his speech was far less successful among white millennials compared to last year (+34 approve post-2018, +18 approve post-2019).

These online dial meters were conducted during Donald Trump’s State of the Union address among 206 registered voters nationally: 35 African Americans, 37 Latinos, 29 white millennials, 33 white unmarried women, 33 white working-class women, and 39 white college women. To ensure each demographic was as representative as possible, they were individually recruited, according to the pollsters. Surveys were administered before and after the live dial-meter session. Where compared to 2018 results, the total is among the lines for African Americans, Latinos, white millennials and white unmarried women only.

Read Trump’s full SOTU speech here:

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