Even on the back of the longest government shutdown on record, the vast majority of viewers approved of President Trump’s State of the Union speech. However, partisan sniping was still rife among viewers and in Congress.
Trump’s speech, which clocked in at 90 minutes, struck a conciliatory tone from the get-go, with the president asking America to “choose greatness” and “embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.” The address went down well with the audience. A CBS poll found that 76 percent of viewers approved of the president’s message, while even a CNN poll also put the figure at 76 percent, with 59 percent having reported a “very positive” reaction.
Some 56 percent of CBS respondents said the speech would do more to unify the country. However, 36 percent felt that things would remain the same, and 64 percent felt that Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will continue their standoffish relationship afterwards. CNN’s viewers were slightly more pessimistic, with 53 percent thinking that Trump would not succeed in increasing cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.
Talking policy, Trump touted the US’ strong economy, record employment, and record female participation in politics and the workforce as success shared by both parties. He also praised the bipartisan effort to reform federal prisons, and agreed with the frequent Democrat talking point about criminal justice often being unfair to African-Americans. Two of his guests in the gallery were ex-convicts Alice Johnson and Matthew Charles, both of whom are black.
The president then talked healthcare, from lowering drug prices and protecting pre-existing conditions to eradicating AIDS within 10 years and funding research to battle childhood cancers.
After dispensing with overtures to the Democrats, Trump dug in on some familiar Republican positions. The president slammed recent Democrat support for late-term abortions, and repeated his promise to build a wall along the country’s Mexican border.
“This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier, not just a simple concrete wall,” he said, adding, “Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.”
Even these more partisan talking points got a favorable reaction from viewers. 72 percent of CBS viewers agreed with Trump on immigration, with 71 percent concurring that there is a “crisis” at the southern border. 68 percent of CNN viewers thought Trump’s immigration policies will “move the country in the right direction.”
Partisanship was still alive and well, however, among viewers and among the lawmakers in attendance.
CBS found that 97 percent of Republicans approved of the speech, while only 30 percent of Democrats felt the same. The division is notable, considering that 43 percent of viewers considered themselves Republicans, compared to 24 percent Democrats. CNN’s viewers were likewise 17 points more likely to identify as Republicans.
Within the House chamber, divisions were visually apparent. A sea of Democrat women wearing white cheered as Trump hailed the 177th Congress as the most female and most diverse yet, but sat stone-faced through much of the rest of the speech, including his remarks on record low African-American unemployment and female victims of human trafficking.
Likewise, socialist Senator Bernie Sanders was unimpressed with Trump’s passionate paean to capitalism, and hotshot Bronx Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sat tight lipped through much of the ceremony, and afterwards said that Trump “failed to offer any plan, any vision at all, for our future.”
Why should I be “spirited and warm” for this embarrassment of a #SOTU?
Tonight was an unsettling night for our country. The president failed to offer any plan, any vision at all, for our future.
We’re flying without a pilot. And I‘m not here to comfort anyone about that fact. https://t.co/7bu3QXFMnC
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 6, 2019
Despite the recent government shutdown dropping his approval rating to 43 percent, Trump’s popularity leapt back to its pre-shutdown level of 48 percent on the evening of the speech. The president’s address was also better received that last year’s State of the Union. 71 percent of CNN viewers said that Trump would move the country in the right direction overall, compared to 62 percent last year.
These numbers, some observers argued, will make Trump a formidable opponent in 2020.
Last night should serve as a wake-up call for Dems. Trump is not to be underestimated in 2020. Too many people think the election will be a layup and he will be easily beaten. Not true. It will be an ugly battle for the future of the republic. And the Dems better find a fighter.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) February 6, 2019
If Trump follows through on the agenda he laid out and continues to own the presidency as he did last night, he’ll steamroll any Dem 2020 challenger. #SOTU
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) February 6, 2019
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