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State of the Union 2019 Dial Meter Test Results

February 6, 2019

On behalf of the Voter Participation Center and Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, Democracy Corps conducted live dial-meter testing of the 2019 State of the Union address among the Rising American Electorate, white working-class women, and white college women. [1] Here are some of the key findings in advance of our full report:

  1. The level of engagement is at levels we have never seen before. Voters, including those in our dial- meter groups last night, watched last night’s address with an extraordinary high level of political engagement, measured by the percent who say they are “almost certain to vote” in the 2020 election. The Rising American Electorate (people of color, unmarried women and millennials) is already more engaged than in the month before the highest midterm turnout election since World War I. African Americans, Latinos, and white millennials are near 100 percent on vote certainty, up by 20 to 30 points from the comparable point last year, and white unmarried women are up 22 points.


  1. The Democratic presidential vote was not eroded and Trump’s job performance gains were unimpressive. The post-SOTU bump in President Trump’s job performance was as modest as it was among RAE voters in 2017, one of the smallest post-SOTU shifts for a first term president in our experience dial testing. White millennials, Latinos, and African Americans produced the same modest gains they did in 2018 and 2017, but the white college women remained resolute in their opposition, with no movement on Trump’s performance and virtually no improvement on his 2020 vote. The president did make bigger gains with the RAE on his personal favorability, but that was probably the result of the empathy he showed for the many presidential guests and his surprising support for women, affordable health care and paid family leave.

  1. Trump has lost the immigration battle. The President made immigration and border security the central pitch of his address last night, yet his post-SOTU shift on handling immigration was no bigger than last year’s. He did get a warm response from African Americans and Latinos when praising legal immigration, but even white working-class women were turned off by his exaggerated claims about the danger of the border and migrant caravans. If the goal was to create a new context for a possible shutdown or emergency declaration with this address, then the President failed. The RAE voters were only 13 points more favorable towards ‘a wall at the southern border’ at the end of the night (30 to 43 percent warm) which is not significantly better than the temporary gains he made with last year’s address (29 to 39 percent, +9 warmer). At the end of the night, just 32 percent said Trump was doing what was best for the country when it came to the shutdown over the wall.

  1. The biggest gains of the night were on making health care more affordable, but beware of fake promises. President Trump’s commitments to guaranteeing protections for pre-existing medical conditions and to reducing prescription drug prices led everyone to dial up their lines, particularly white working-class women and white unmarried women. Trump’s gains on health care affordability were the biggest of the night and twice as large as his SOTU-improvement on the issue last year (+12 shift on ‘will make health care affordable’ in 2018 v. +23 shift this year among the RAE). But when he tried to say that drug costs declined at a record low rate, the lines took a hit. Voters showed they will only reward results. Plus, he made these gains championing positions his administration does not support, and just last fall he paid a big price for his failed campaign promise to working class voters to replace Obamacare with better, cheaper health insurance plans.

  1. Trump saw a rise by recognizing women in the workplace and in Congress. Trump’s recognition of working women, his commitment to paid family leave, and his mention of the historic number of women in the Congress produced some of the highest points in the dials across all groups last night. The Democratic women in white who stood in recognition of their progress provided an exciting moment to the white millennials who otherwise were the most immovable of our dialers. At the end of the night, Trump improved 20 points on being ‘good for women,’ much better than the 5-point shift among these RAE voters over the course of last year’s address. But we suspect they were driven more by the celebrations of the Democratic women, and the President’s playing along, than anything about his agenda or specific plans. And again, these gains come with the risk he will never support any of these policies that would help working families.

  1. Criminal justice reform delivered a massive boost. The white millennials and African Americans in our dials went from hovering below 50 all evening to through the roof when they heard the President introduce former inmate Alice Johnson and the bipartisan First Step Act, a criminal justice reform law. But to be sure, Trump ended the night in roughly the same place as he did last year among African Americans, with roughly 8-in-10 disapproving. Notably, his speech was far less successful among white millennials compared to last year (+34 approve post-2018, +18 approve post-2019).

In the end, the Rising American Electorate said that they want Democrats in Congress to be a check on Trump rather than to work with him, by a two-to-one margin, marking even greater resistance to Trump and his agenda than last year (60 check to 40 work in 2018). Please stay tuned for a full report on these dial meters and pre and post survey responses in the coming day.


[1] These online dial meters were conducted during President Trump’s State of the Union address among 206 registered voters nationally: 35 African Americans, 37 Latinos, 29 white millennials, 33 white unmarried women, 33 white working-class women, and 39 white college women. To ensure each demographic group was as representative as possible, they were individually recruited. Surveys were administered before and after the live dial-meter session. Where compared to 2018 results, the total is among the lines for African Americans, Latinos, white millennials and white unmarried women only. This research is qualitative, and results are not statistically projectable onto a larger population.


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