Pull The Plug On The SOTU?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 20 2015 @ 8:15pm

Who Watches

Steve Chapman wants to:

Whether this event is still worth their time … is doubtful. If there was ever a time that direct exposure to presidential eloquence could melt the hearts of hostile legislators, it has passed. Even the public seems to have acquired immunity. The effort often backfires. “In a 2013 analysis of SOTU polling,” [Cato’s Gene] Healy has noted, “Gallup found that ‘most presidents have shown an average decrease in approval of one or more points between the last poll conducted before the State of the Union and the first one conducted afterward.'”

But Jack Shafer cheerfully thinks the annual address “isn’t completely useless”:

According to research conducted by political scientists Donna R. Hoffman and Alison D. Howard, about 40 percent of the requests a president makes in a State of the Union speech are enacted in some form as law—a batting average the major leagues haven’t seen since Ted Williams.

Perhaps presidents have inflated their batting averages by including sure-bet legislative proposals in addresses, but the addresses still frame the White House’s intentions, clarify the direction the president’s budget will take, focus press corps coverage, and help structure the legislative agenda. Language about an issue into the State of the Union also has a tendency to increase the public’s sense of urgency about it. One study of addresses from 1946 to 2003 found that every 50 words devoted by a president to an issue resulted in a 2 percentage point increase (sometimes temporary) in the public’s identification of the issue as America’s most important problem. Laugh if you want to, but political revolutions are won by 2 percentage point swings, even temporary ones.

I enjoy the spectacle, the set-speech and the tradition. But then I’m an English Tory deep-down. YouGov looks at who will tune in tonight:

[D]espite Democrats being the most likely to say they will watch it does not mean that the audience will be mainly comprised of Democrats. In light of how many more independents there are than Democrats, 40% of tonight’s audience is expected to be made up of independents and 40% will be Democrats. Only 19% of people tuning in will be Republicans.

Regardless, Jonathan Bernstein contends that Obama’s most important audience is his fellow Democrats:

The president doesn’t choose his proposals in a vacuum. His agenda is the Democratic Party agenda (or one version of it), and the party constrains what Obama can do. … Yes, the president has the single biggest vote — he’s the single most important party actor. But the best way to think of the State of the Union is as part of a continuing process, with the results today both an outcome of party battles and a factor in the next round of defining the party.