Later this evening, Barack Obama will deliver the final State of the Union address of his presidency. Those who endure it should expect to hear plenty about climate change, poverty, and gun violence, but those turn out to be among the lowest priorities for registered voters. According to a new poll from Morning Consult, more than a quarter of respondents put the war against ISIS as their top priority:
Americans believe combatting the Islamic State is the most important topic for President Obama to address in his State of the Union speech, according to a new Morning Consult poll. Twenty-six percent say it should be the top issue Obama discusses in his last State of the Union address, followed by “improving the U.S. economy” and “providing clear direction and leadership for the country.”
The poll, which surveyed registered voters’ State of the Union expectations and interest levels, also finds just seven percent of respondents believe “reducing gun violence” is the most important issue. Only two percent believe that “reducing global poverty” is the most important issue.
“Reducing gun violence” comes in tied for a distant fourth on the list with reducing costs in health care. It’s not the lowest priority, but it’s much closer to bottom than it is even to the third-place 13% for “clear direction and leadership.” Climate change, which will undoubtedly get plenty of airtime after the Paris accord, barely avoids scraping bottom at 3%. This changes a bit when voters ask about voting priorities, in part because Morning Consult changes the nomenclature, but economic issues (32%) and security issues (27%) dominate. There is no clear category for gun violence, but energy issues — where climate change would likely fall — only gets 4%.
Even when asked separately and respondents can emphasize more than one issue for tonight’s SOTU, the gaps between issues still becomes apparent. On ISIS, jobs, and leadership, more than six in ten consider those issues to be very important for discussion in the SOTU. Health care gets a slim majority at 51%. “Reducing gun violence” only gets 42%, and climate change gets a wan 30%. Reducing poverty in the US actually scores slightly better than both at 47%.
The emphasis on low-priority issues may be part of the reason why Obama and Democrats are increasingly at odds over Obama’s agenda. The Hill reports that the friction has intensified as the SOTU address approaches:
But recent clashes between liberals and the White House over high-profile issues as diverse as trade, Iran sanctions and deportations invite a different dynamic to this year’s speech, where Obama is expected to defend those policies as part of a concerted push to wrap up loose ends and burnish his legacy in the twilight of his presidency.
A former Democratic leadership aide said the prominence of those issues — combined with the vocal opposition from Obama’s own liberal base — puts the president in a tougher spot this year than in speeches past.
“There has been tension from the very beginning,” the former aide said. “But it’s pretty pronounced right now.”
For Democrats, the timing is not ideal. Party leaders want to forge a united front in a presidential election year when they’re trying to mold an image as the party of shared values fighting for American workers and families in the face of an obstructionist GOP that prioritizes corporations and other well-heeled special interests.
Obama has largely done well in reconciling rifts with congressional Democrats, but the growing outcry over his Iran policy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the deportations of illegal immigrants highlights how his focus on legacy-building is conflicting at times with his party’s priorities.
Another reason for the friction might be Obama’s overall approval numbers. The Morning Consult poll puts it at 42/55. Only 18% “strongly approve,” while 40% “strongly disapprove.” Obama will begin his lame-duck final year tonight, and perhaps Democrats on Capitol Hill feel the danger of that most.