Obama's State of the Union: Don't Measure Success by the Polls but by the 'Influentials'

Political strategest Matthew Dowd says look at impact on D.C.'s "influentials."

ByABC News
January 20, 2011, 10:19 PM

Jan. 21, 2011 — -- In looking ahead to Tuesday's State of the Union address, let's pause and reflect on what is the likely impact of this speech by President Obama and what audience should be the real aim of his message.

An analysis of Gallup polling data over the last 35 years reveals that the State of the Union has little to no effect on presidential approval ratings. President Clinton fared the best -- on average his approval rose a very modest 3 percentage points after his annual addresses.

Surprisingly, all other presidents' approval ratings experienced slight declines on average. President George H. W. Bush suffered an average drop of 4 percentage points, while Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush saw average declines of a single point.

More remarkable: President Reagan, arguably the greatest communicator of the bunch, was unable to move public opinion through these widely-watched and covered speeches. President Obama's first State of the Union yielded a similar result. The polling data showed no impact, even though he often is lauded as a superb speaker.

For more columns from Matthew Dowd, CLICK HERE.

Presidential consolation speeches don't move the numbers much either. Much has been made of President Obama's speech in Tucson and its similarity to the address President Clinton delivered after the homegrown terror attack on an Oklahoma federal building in 1995.

President Clinton, while receiving a bump of 4 or 5 points from that speech, was right back at his previous approval levels within six weeks. And while some of President Obama's slight rise in polling can be attributed to his well-received and poetic speech, most probably has to do with the different bipartisan trajectory he has been on since midterm Election Day. It remains to be seen how long his "bump" lasts.

So what to look for? Whatever the (likely limited) impact the speech has on the general public will likely be due to his continuing to connect the dots on his bipartisan appeal and his desire to change the tone in Washington. Single speeches don't usually move the country, but a cumulative effect of consistent communications and actions that resonate with the public does. And, of course, an improving economy would be a major help with stabilizing his numbers at a higher level.