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Biden’s State of the Union was beyond belief. Just ask voters

Simply saying the same things more aggressively won’t convince voters

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress on March 7.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress on March 7. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Given the number of State of the Union speeches President Joe Biden has likely endured over his 50 years in Washington, one might have expected to see a more skilled and cogent annual message to Congress as required by the Constitution. It didn’t happen.

Instead, last week’s SOTU was a master class in how not to win an argument.

Turning up the volume to sell assertions that people don’t fundamentally believe won’t make them more convincing. Nor will an aggressive, if not downright angry, delivery.

Biden’s State of the Union was a rehash of his previous annual addresses, coupled with the harsh campaign rhetoric that characterizes most of his appearances these days. It’s not working with the electorate.

When we designed our recent Winning the Issues survey in late February, we included a series of economic statements made by Biden and his White House team that we believed would likely be central to Biden’s then-upcoming SOTU. In October 2023, we tested an economic ad produced by the Biden campaign to address the public concerns about his handling of the economy. We found that a majority of the electorate did not believe most of the statements made in the ad and, as a result, had a neutral response.

The resulting data from our February survey shows Biden’s significant disconnect with voters continues — as it has for months. A majority of the electorate simply doesn’t believe most of his key statements, and yet in his SOTU, the president chose to go down the same rhetorical path one more time, somehow expecting a different result. The poll shows a stark contrast between Biden’s claims and what the electorate believes about the economy.

Biden told Americans in his address, “It’s because of you that tonight we can proudly say the state of our union is strong and getting stronger.”

Voters told Winning the Issues survey (conducted Feb. 24-25) that the country was on the wrong track by a 67 percent to 23 percent margin, which is reflective of most national surveys. They also said they didn’t believe Biden had made progress on the economy by 56 percent to 35 percent.

But Biden’s conflicting rhetoric didn’t end there. Here’s a short reality check.

Biden: “Wages keep going up. Inflation keeps coming down. Inflation has dropped from 9 percent to 3 percent — the lowest in the world and trending lower. The landing is and will be soft.”

Winning the Issues: 54 percent of respondents said inflation has gotten worse, while only 21 percent said better and 23 percent said “no change.”

Seventy-eight percent said they did not believe the statement “Grocery prices are coming down.”

Fifty-four percent to 37 percent did not believe the statement “Gas prices are manageable.”

They also did not believe the statement “Wages are now increasing at a greater rate than inflation” by a wide margin of 61 percent to 23 percent.

When asked whether family income surpassed inflation, kept up or lagged behind, 58 percent said it lagged behind, 31 percent said kept up and only 7 percent said surpassed.

Biden: “Folks, I inherited an economy that was on the brink. Now, our economy is literally the envy of the world. Fifteen million new jobs in just three years — a record, a record. Unemployment at 50-year lows.”

Winning the Issues: 52 percent of the electorate did not believe the economy was in a free fall prior to President Biden taking office, while 33 percent did.

By a 45 percent to 37 percent margin, people didn’t believe the economy has created 15 million jobs since Biden took office.

Forty-four percent of people who participated in the survey said most of the jobs created under Biden were ones lost during the COVID-19 pandemic; 31 percent disagreed.

In contrast to the economy being the envy of the world, as the president contended, 51 percent said they did not believe that his economic recovery legislation, passed with solely Democratic votes, has resulted in the U.S. leading the world’s economic growth; 27 percent did.

Biden: “That’s why I determined to turn things around, so middle class does well.”

Winning the Issues: We asked: “President Biden is fighting for the middle class and Main Street not special interests and Wall Street.” By a 50 percent to 35 percent margin, voters did not believe that statement.

Winning the Issues also asked voters whether they believed the statement “After two years of record inflation, high gas prices, and grocery costs, policies under President Biden are not working.” People believed that statement, 57 percent to 31 percent.

Biden: “For years, people have talked about it, but finally we got it done and gave Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs, just like the VA’s able to do for veterans.”

Winning the Issues: One of the few issues on which Biden can take some solace is prescription drugs, where we found people, 49 percent to 31 percent, believed he has passed laws to lower the costs of medications.

But overall, numbers as negative as these ought to give the White House pause to reflect that sending Biden out to tout the latest economic statistics may not be the best idea. When voters were asked in the Winning the Issues survey how they determine how inflation is doing, 82 percent of those surveyed put more stock in the price of items they regularly buy, groceries and gas, while only 13 percent said official government statistics like the consumer price index and economic news.

Some of the media, working off the same script, seemed to love Biden’s SOTU, praising the president’s atypical delivery, calling him feisty and fiery at every turn. But there is a fine line between feisty and angry. Biden crossed that line with his delivery, but more important than theatrics, Biden, as he has over the past year, tried to sell the same statements that a majority of voters don’t believe.

Saying it again, but louder, won’t make the statements more credible or more believable to voters.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.

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