About half of Americans who watched President Joe Biden’s address to Congress had a very positive reaction to the speech, and 71% said they walked away feeling more optimistic about the country’s direction, according to a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.
By a wide margin, speech-watchers said that Biden’s policy proposals would move the country in the right direction (73%) rather than the wrong direction (27%). In a survey conducted before the speech, the same people were a bit less bullish that Biden would lead in the right direction (67% right direction, 33% wrong direction), and that movement came from the independents and Republicans who watched the speech. Among Republicans, the share saying Biden’s policies would move the country in the right direction grew from 13% pre-speech to 27% post-speech, while among independents, that percentage rose from 61% to 73%.
That perception carries through to the major issues covered in the speech. More than 8 in 10 said Biden’s proposals on the coronavirus pandemic would move in the right direction (86%), and 74% said the same about racial injustice. Around 7 in 10 said the President’s policies on the economy (72%), gun laws (70%) and taxes (70%) were steps in the right direction. Slightly fewer said the same about immigration (65%).
And Biden’s focus on those issues appeared to hit the right mark for speech-watchers. Overall, 68% said Biden has had the right priorities so far as president, while 32% said he has not paid enough attention to the most important problems.
The 51% who had a very positive reaction to Biden’s speech is a bit more muted than reaction to the first address from other recent presidents. Barack Obama had the strongest first outing of the last four presidents, with 68% saying they had a very positive reaction to his speech, and George W. Bush in 2001 earned a similar 66% very positive. Fewer – 57% – had a very positive reaction to Donald Trump’s 2017 address.
Speech-watchers largely said Biden hit the right notes in terms of ideology and partisanship. Nearly two-thirds (64%) said the proposals he outlined in the speech were about right ideologically, 31% said they were too liberal and just 5% not liberal enough. And 58% said that Biden made the right amount of outreach to Republicans in his speech, while 38% felt he did not go far enough. Only 4% said Biden went too far.
The audience of speech-watchers was a friendly one for Biden, as is typical of presidential addresses to Congress. Overall, the pool of people who watched the speech was about 13 points more Democratic than the general public and about 2 points less Republican. That tilt is similar to the partisan makeup of speech audiences for Obama’s final three State of the Union addresses.
Surveys were conducted by text message with 589 US adults who said they watched the presidential address on Wednesday and is representative of the views of speech-watchers only. Respondents were recruited to participate before the speech, and were selected by a survey of members of the SSRS Opinion Panel, a nationally representative panel recruited using probability-based sampling techniques. Results for the full sample of speech-watchers have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.4 percentage points.
This story has been updated with additional information.