Beyond the State of the Union: Obama's Legacy

President Barack Obama addresses immigration reform on Jan. 29. 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
President Barack Obama addresses immigration reform on Jan. 29. 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tonight, President Obama will deliver the first State of the Union address of his second term, setting the stage for his agenda and perhaps more importantly, his legacy.

He is expected to spend a majority of his time addressing three key fiscal issues – strengthening the economy, improving the jobs situation, and reducing the budget deficit. And, with good reason, as these issues are the top three for voters around the country as measured by the Pew Research Center.

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But if past is prologue, his previous four State of the Union addresses have spent very little time on deficit reduction. President Obama has spent 27, 33, 22, and 35 minutes respectively on the economy and the debt combined, approximately two-thirds of the total speaking time of his previous addresses. However, the amount of time Obama spent on the economy in comparison to the debt was three-to-one. Last year that ratio was six-to-one.

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This focus on the economy comes at a time when taxes have risen for77% of Americans, the gross domestic product shrank in the last quarter, unemployment is projected to remain above 7.5% through the next election, and only one-third of voters think the economy is getting better – no different from February one year ago.

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Recent polling indicates that the President's "honeymoon" period following the election is coming to a close, his approval hovering around 50%, down from a high of 54% in December. Some of this is due to a natural settling of enthusiasm following an engaging election. But, some of this is no doubt a decline in support among young and low-income voters, who are most likely to be living paycheck-to-paycheck. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, they are moving away from supporting the President following the January first payroll tax hike. These two key groups overwhelmingly supported the President on Election Day (60% of voters in each group voted for Obama), but now merely 43% of voters ages 18-29 and 49% of those making less than $50,000 a year approve of the job he is doing (down from 58% and 57% in December).

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It will be a tough sell to convince these voters to stand firmly behind the President's second-term agenda after his first post-election decision from the Oval Office was to cut their take-home pay, and while he continues to signal that more government spending lies ahead.

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