Obama won the hearts of his base but Republicans remain skeptical.
Tuesday night, my firm, Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research conducted an Instant Response session with 29 voters from the suburban Virginia area. Just over half voted for Obama while the rest voted for McCain. In other respects, the group reflected the area’s population, with a mix of ages, occupations and incomes. All were highly news-engaged people meaning that they each said they pay close attention to national and international news.
Strong partisan divides. The view from this group was not quite as gushy about the speech as most of the cable networks would suggest. While Americans continue to root for the President to succeed, the first few weeks of the Obama Administration have done little to erase the partisan skepticism so prevalent of the past eight years. What we witnessed was a group of people polarized by Obama’s message even while they ended up giving him reasonably high marks for his performance overall. In fact, we saw huge partisan divides in nearly every area of Obama’s speech.
A new divide is forming. As significant as the partisan divide, we also saw a new philosophical split emerging: the responsible vs. the irresponsible. Many participants – Democrats and Republicans alike – believe that the stimulus package and the housing bill are doing too much to reward the bad behavior of others. They resent neighbors who never should have purchased homes they couldn’t afford and they are angry that they will now be forced to carry the burden for what they see as reckless behavior. They reject Obama’s recent policy victories as the wrong approach to solving the financial crisis and want to ensure that they will not be asked to sacrifice more to support others.
With that said, here is a rundown of what worked for both parties and what didn’t work for Republicans in Obama’s speech. Also included are some of the clips from the groups.
- Hope and optimism. Before the speech, most of our participants from both parties said that Obama’s “gloom and doom” over the past few weeks had not served him well. They said they wanted Obama to return to the tone of his campaign. And according to them, he did so. Though his rhetoric around hope and optimism did not test as strongly in this context as it did during much of the campaign, our group overwhelmingly agreed that he has successfully communicated a more optimistic view of American’s future.
- People and Personal responsibility. For all of the large reform proposals outlined in Obama’s speech, the messages that resonated most were not about government at all. They were about people and personal responsibility. Talk about “the hardest-working people on Earth” or the parent who must take responsibility for her children or the “men and women in uniform” received uniformly positive responses. For Republicans and Democrats, there is agreement that now is a time for greater personal responsibility. And for a former community organizer it is ironic that the messages that did best were those that spoke of giving Americans the power to achieve a better future.