This will be Mr Obama's fifth State of the Union address, but after endless budget battles and a big fall in the deficit, it will be his first when fiscal policy is not a pressing economic issue. That makes it an opportunity for the president to define a new national agenda on economic policy.
A crucial question is how he frames the struggles of America's middle class. Aides have promised an "optimistic" speech: that could see the president trying to ride the economic recovery, laying out a series of small but achievable measures to help in areas such as retraining or college affordability.
(Read more: Forget the State of the Union, focus on the Fed)
Alternatively, he may try to paint a broader picture of the pressures caused by globalisation and technological change, and demand more radical measures – such as the minimum wage rise he called for last year – that have little chance of passing the current Congress. Robin Harding
5. Foreign Policy . . . uncertainty about US presence in Afghanistan
The president will use his speech to claim that he is fulfilling one major foreign policy commitment: bringing the war in Afghanistan to a conclusion. By the end of the year, the formal mission in Afghanistan – the longest war the US has ever fought – will come to an end.
(Read more: Robert Gates hits out at Obama foreign policy)
As he speaks, however, there is still considerable uncertainty about the future of American engagement in the country. The US has pushed for an agreement with the Afghan government that would allow several thousand troops to remain in the country, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign.
Mr Obama will also probably highlight two other foreign policy initiatives – the nuclear talks with Iran and the administration's new drive for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.