How many can remember anything from Barack Obama’s recent (and final) State of the Union address? Despite promising a “non-traditional” SOTU, Obama offered up the usual amalgam of laundry-list agenda items and self-promotion. Obama wanted to set the agenda for the next year, and in one paragraph early in the speech laid out that agenda clearly:
But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients. And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing. Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done.
The latest research from Pew shows that Obama has the same grasp he’s always had on public priorities, which is to say … poor. In a survey taken in the seven days leading up to Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress, voters offered multiple answers on priorities in 2016 overwhelmingly put two Obama left off his 2016 laundry list — the economy and defense against terrorism. And those priorities he did cite are mostly at the bottom of the list for voters:
Strengthening the nation’s economy (75%) and defending the country from future terrorist attacks (75%) stand at the top of the public’s priority list for the president and Congress in 2016.
A tier below these top issues, about two-thirds call improving the educational system (66%) and improving the job situation (64%) top priorities for the country.
The public now ranks reducing the budget deficit (56% top priority) toward the middle of its list, alongside issues such as reducing crime (58%) and dealing with the problems of poor and needy people (54%).
Fewer than half say reforming the criminal justice system should be a top priority (44%). Even fewer cite dealing with global climate change (38%) or dealing with gun policy (37%) as top priorities for the country.
Among the issues listed by Obama, only education comes close to a top priority — and that’s a generous assessment, since most voters probably don’t think the top issue in education is teaching students to write computer code. Immigration barely gets a majority and comes in 11th on Pew’s list. Gun policy comes in seven ranks below that with only 37% citing it as a priority of any kind. Climate change, which got a significant mention later in Obama’s speech as he scolded Republican skeptics, edges out gun issues at 38% … in 17th place. Assuming that the equal-pay and minimum-wage issues can neatly fit into the “Poor and needy” issue area, it comes in a wan 10th.
This handy chart from Pew offers a good look at the aggregated priorities of the electorate:
This kind of survey works better to demonstrate the passion on issue areas than other polling that asks respondents to just choose their most urgent issue. Even with multiple choice as an option, less than 4 in 10 Americans are concerned about the issues Obama wants to push in his legacy-building final year in office. Furthermore, Obama made it very clear that he wanted to frame the 2016 election for Democrats on these same issues.
If Democrats do take their lead, then Obama may end up making irrelevancy his enduring legacy. Rarely has a President sounded more out of touch with the electorate, and so self-congratulatory about it at the same time.