Obama, reform get boost from speech

Early polling suggests the president's address to Congress has paid off

Published September 11, 2009 5:01PM (EDT)

It's still early, but so far, it looks like President Obama's address to Congress was, mostly, a winner.

CBS News is out with a poll showing that "Americans now give [Obama] the best marks of his presidency on handling health care, but they're still divided over whether he's clearly explained his plan."

Approval of the president's handling of the issue has jumped 12 points in a week, from 40 percent to 52 percent. Disapproval has dropped nine points, from 47 percent to 38 percent. (The margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.)

The problem, as CBS notes, is that Obama didn't really do much to convince the respondents that healthcare will help them personally. Before the speech, 19 percent said it would; the number's risen, but only to 22 percent, which is within the margin of error. 27 percent now say it will hurt them, and 42 percent say it will have no effect; both numbers are down by three points -- again, within the margin of error.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee has publicized the results of a focus group it conducted on the speech. Obviously, the DNC has its own agenda, and so the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but the man responsible for the research has a good reputation. A memo explaining the results says, "[T]he speech was effective at alleviating concerns of voters and impressing upon them that the President has a strong plan to reform health care. Even among those voters who held neutral or negative opinions of the President, substantial positive movement was shown as the proportion of these participants supporting the President’s plan increased by nearly 40% after the speech."

There's reason here for the White House to be cheered, obviously. But the real impact of the speech probably won't be accurately measured for a couple weeks yet -- the true test isn't just whether Obama's address succeeds in swaying people in the immediate aftermath, but whether they remain convinced down the line.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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