Uniting Americans on the Energy Issue: Voter Reactions to Obama's Address to Congress


Michael Bocian & Brian Stryker
Interested Parties

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Energy Video Clip (WMV - 24 MB)

Executive Summary

On February 24, 2009, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Democracy Corps conducted “dial groups” or real-time focus group analysis of Obama’s address to Congress. The groups were comprised of swing voters in Henderson, Nevada and were evenly divided among Obama and McCain voters. The testing consisted of two parts: First, participants were asked to rank Obama’s speech in real-time, instantly gauging what he was saying on a 0 to 100 scale, with 0 being extremely negative and 100 being extremely positive. Second, participants rated Obama on a number of measures before and after the speech, to see how the speech changed their opinions.

In this special analysis we want to highlight a section of the speech that was particularly insightful: the section on energy.

Key Findings

  • When Obama talked about energy, he got one of the highest positive ratings in the real-time dials all night. Overall, voters rated him in the high 70s on the 0 to 100 scale. Independents and Democrats rated him in the low-to-mid 80s, and Republicans rated him in the mid 60s. The ratings especially jumped when Obama discussed making America a leader in new energy technologies (such as solar, plug-in hybrids). He used leadership language - phrases like “it is time to lead again" - and it produced a strong positive response.
  • Clearly, voters liked what Obama had to say on energy. We asked voters both before and after the speech if they were confident Obama could handle the energy issue. Before the speech, 56 percent of voters said they were confident he could handle it (38 percent said they were not confident). After the survey, they said they were confident by a 72 - 28 percent margin.
  • Obama rarely, if ever, talks about global warming without talking about alternative energy. The Joint Address speech was no exception either. For example, Obama mentioned "clean, renewable energy…the profitable kind of energy" in the same breath as "[placing] a market-based cap on carbon pollution." Democrats and Republicans tend to think differently about global warming, but people see alternative energy through the lenses of global warming, energy independence, and job creation and tend to support it for whichever of these reasons appeal to them most.
  • There were positive reactions across the partisan spectrum to Obama throughout the entire speech, as Stan mentions in his general analysis. This was particularly true with the energy portion. In fact, Independents rated this section higher than Democrats did; a rarity during the speech and during dial testing in general as a speaker’s partisan base tends to rate him the highest of any partisan subgroup.

Click here to read Stan Greenberg’s full analysis on the groups.