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‘He was gaslighting us’: Undecided voters on State of the Union

Mar 12

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President Biden identified many key concerns as he delivered his annual State of the Union address. He confronted foreign wars in Ukraine and Gaza and domestic issues relevant to rural America, sparking a range of reactions from prospective voters.

In this 30-minute episode of America Speaks, pollster and political analyst Dr. Frank Luntz interviews a panel of undecided swing-state Americans to measure their feedback and reactions to the speech. While opinion on the speech itself was split, participants did not have reassuring answers when asked to summarize their own impression of the state of the country in just one word. One participant aptly summarized what seemed to be a shared concern: “We have two unions.”

The State of the Union speech is an annual Washington tradition that dates back to Woodrow Wilson more than a century ago, because it has become increasingly politicized and tied to whatever election is up next. Few people realize that the State of the Union is actually constitutionally mandated. According to Article two, section three clause one, the President is required to periodically and I quote, give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as He shall judge necessary and expedient end quote. For America’s first 100 years, the President submitted a written report to Congress. In fact, it wasn’t until 1934 that Franklin Roosevelt became the first president to use this specific phrase, State of the Union. But it was President Woodrow Wilson who began the regular practice of delivering an annual address to Congress in person as a way to rally support for his agenda. And that’s exactly what happened in this year’s speech. 10s of millions of Americans tune in to see what the Biden administration has in store between now and Election Day. To get America’s reaction to that speech, we in America speaks invited 19 undecided swing voters from 17 states to listen and then give us the reaction. They did not disappoint.
When Joe Biden was asked to describe the state of the union in a single word, he used the word strong.
What would you use? What one word would you use to describe the state of the union today, Robin from Texas, very unstable. Rita from California.
Week.
Christine from Arizona, and reliable. Brandy Famille Illinois. Disaster. Tyler from South Carolina, fragmented. Robbie from Montana, verified James from Iowa.
unspectacular Zachary from Kentucky. We’re open
Atlanta from Rhode Island. We have two unions that are very decisive.
Taryn from Florida, divided Paul from New York, thirsty for a unifying leadership guy from North Carolina, rudderless.
Always from California. Combat of
Gary from Michigan. And he was
to either from Texas
chaos, rage of home Louisiana, underwhelming.
markeesha from Florida, fragile. Sarah from New York, disgusted logon from North Carolina brittle. You just saw the President’s State of the Union address from 2024 Do you have a more favorable or less favorable impression of him after seeing that speech? Raise your hands if you’re more favorable?
1234567 Raise your hands if you’re less favorable.
123456 Raise your hands if it had no impact on you whatsoever. 123456. Okay, so it’s, it’s basically a Dedede. I’m going to ask each of you to tell me in a single sentence, how you would characterize this speech and aways I’m gonna start with you.
I think it was emotional at points in terms of he tried to hit some of the items that I had concerns about. So I think there it was good in parks basically. Why they’re from Texas.
Um, I just wasn’t impressed. I didn’t
i i Honestly, I was bored to tears. I just, I think is more to saying he talked too much about the past day. Okay. It is what it is. But in the future, I think that he should have talked more about a strategic plan, month, one year one, et cetera, et cetera. And he did. Rachel from Louisiana.
I felt like it was a political stump speech masqueraded as the State of the Union. And I also felt like I don’t really I didn’t learn anything new and my concerns were not addressed. Sherif.
I felt like he was gaslighting us and I felt like
All he was doing was yelling and blaming everybody but himself. Logan.
Yeah. loud but not strong
guy.
It was a stump speech that failed to focus on any of the critical issues facing us.
Paul, I thought it was optimistic. I mean, I am an immigrant coming from Japan. And we have a very positive view of America growing up. So it’s nice to have a forward looking vision. Zachary
started, the speech was very negative. And the whole speech was just loud. I felt like I was being yelled at most of the time. In the end of this speech was positive, but it was just talking points, not a lot of substance. James,
it seemed more like a political speech to me more like a campaign speech, then a State of the Union address
would allow me to
write I felt it was a campaign speech. It was very the same old same old.
Although the President spent a considerable amount of time discussing the economy, the reaction to his proposals were decidedly mixed. While no one has sympathy for millionaires or billionaires, one theme emerged beyond all others, cut wasteful spending is clearly American’s highest priority. Let’s listen.
Let’s take the speech apart. Let’s talk about his discussion of the economy. What stood out to you. And Twyla, I want to start with you. Is there anything from the economy that was really impactful?
No, no, it sounds like what is saying.
Rachel, do you have any anything from the economy that stood out for you? Yeah, I feel like there was a lot of talk and a lot of numbers thrown out about jobs and inflation being down yet. That’s not how I feel. I don’t see any relief. On my bottom line. My numbers my energy bills are not going down. My grocery bills are not going down. I know multiple people that are still looking for jobs and are unemployed. I heard a lot of numbers, but I don’t see any of the evidence that ever backed it up. Wogan.
To be honest, Frank, I don’t remember anything from that speech. That was memorable. Relating to the economy.
I won’t remember it tomorrow. Does anyone have anything? Tyler You You’re almost laughing at it?
Yeah, I feel it was a deadpan speech. I feel like other people in this have felt it’s, you know, 55% of America feel Biden isn’t helping them from the economic perspective. And I’m one of those people. I didn’t see anything but empty promises if that. And none of it was memorable.
Sarah, is there anything that stood out for you in the economy? Yeah, he called himself a capitalist. Yet he went on about shrink inflation and snickers bars and chips like you don’t intervene in capitalism by telling how these producers need to make more chips that that was asinine.
Zachary, the economic part of the speech reaction. I felt like we were being gas lighted into believing that the economy is better than housing.
And the housing aspect is the only part that stood out to me. I felt like he was talking about throwing money at first time homebuyers. And that doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
Robbie, your reaction to the economy?
I really I felt like I was like, I know what Charlie Brown feels like when the teacher is talking. That’s what I really felt like, because like, why, why? Why why? I mean, there was just nothing there for me. I mean, the only thing that I picked up was teachers getting paid more. That was the only thing I was happy about zakra Your reaction? Well, I understood that he had solutions that he thinks are going to fix the economy. But he’s bringing folks are to a fire. He started with raising the debt. And Trump did as well. But he had a lot to do with where we are in the economy. And he’s going to fix the problem that he started. I just don’t think that’s a great solution. So I want to ask you guys as a group, he went after Wall Street, and he went after millionaires and billionaires. Is that the way to go? Did you relate to that? Because I know that none of you fit that category. Paul from New York, you start and then anyone else jumps in. So I’m an economist. So I think I approach this as a slightly different angle than then a lot of people. And I do you think that wealth and income inequality is the biggest issue of our time. I mean, my parents lived in Hong Kong, and that was a primary reason for the protests that happened in 2019. So I do appreciate more
efforts made by any candidate to shrink income and wealth inequality in this country? Because I do think that’s a unifying theme. Somebody else.
Jump in? I don’t think it’s going to I don’t think it’s the solution. Because it’s like, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t think it’s going to work. I just don’t go. I don’t think he I don’t think it’s going to work. I just I don’t see it happening. So I think that goes back to what Rachel was saying. We’ve heard it all before. And we continue to hear it over and over again, and nothing ever changes. So then why should we believe you this time, when you’re telling us it’s gonna happen? Because it hasn’t happened. So what makes you any different?
Well, I’m not simplifying on that point. He’s talking about taxing the rich to spend more money and no point during his speech day, say, we have out of control spending in Washington, DC, and here are steps that we can take to pull the budget down and not have to raise anyone’s taxes. And he just bragged about creating a whole new agency that our tax money will go towards. So yay, for that. They’re gonna lower spending, it’s spending not revenue, they gotta lower spending, or forgetting the second half of taxation without representation. Our representatives are failing us spending our tax dollars responsibly or rationally, even at times. And it’s unjust and unfair to ask of $1 more from anybody in this nation as a citizen, I don’t care what money they make or what they pull down. We don’t need to demonize earners, we need to understand that the problem existed the spending. Yeah, none of the allocating level. Yeah. And there was a hypocrisy in there because he kept talking about trying to unify the country and trying to bring us all together, but he speaks to class warfare on almost every sentence. Immigration is the fastest growing concern across the country. It wasn’t just a border participants from California, Arizona and Texas, who spoke up all of our participants want immediate action to address conditions on the border. And they were critical of Biden’s approach and his Republican opponents. Let’s hear why.
What was your reaction to the immigration segment? Of Joe Biden say the unit address Logan, let’s start with you. I thought it was his strongest part of the speech.
The point where the cameras focus to James Lankford and he mouth, that’s true. It was the best part of his speech, I think. And I agree with Logan 100%. Because they also scanned over to the US. So the Speaker of the House, we didn’t really stands up on anything and kind of almost shaking his head like this. And it was like, Yes, and he was asking them to please pass this bill, let’s do it together. And they were still either, not even paying attention almost three months, Arizona. And I just got to say something about this, because we’ve been dealing with a whole bunch of illegal immigration for decades over here. And what he was saying, pissed me off, actually, because it’s not explaining how things are getting done. He’s talking about, he’s created added to the problem, and there’s not been a solution. They always promised they’re going to do this or do this or have more lawyers or do this and that the other and nothing ever happens, nothing changes, nothing is fixed. We’re just bleeding out money. And all of my friends who came here legally and had to wait years, are just angry, because all of this jumping over everybody else to be like to get votes or whatever the whole purpose of it is, but it’s not helping anyone in these border states. I agree with Dean, I agree. Because he just literally blamed it on the coyotes. He said, Oh, $8,000 That to me infuriated me because it’s, he could have been talking about this for a long time. And all of a sudden, just now he’s talking about it. So I don’t believe a word. He’s saying, I have no faith that anything’s gonna get fixed here. And I know for a fact that there’s people in my state that are having to get packed up and now they’re going in, they’re going to provide Border Patrol. National Guard is being sent from Montana, to the border states.
I by basically created the problem at the border, but in the speech tonight, he said, Let’s spend more money to expedite and mainlining the illegal immigrants into our society, not actually doing anything to prevent the flood coming across the border. So he’s not even paying attention to the problem he created. No, that’s what I was gonna say is I agree that bill needs to be passed. But I think it’s just in the middle of the election season and sure they can pass the bill, but why should he get the credit for being passed after three years of it being a failure under his leadership, but I don’t know
reminder that the border bill does not only address the border, there is billions for Ukraine and other stuff. This is why we need single item bills. So they can’t argue back and forth about so and so doesn’t want to pass it. Well, why don’t they? Because it’s more than just the border.
comments that Zack said because I did legally immigrant immigrate here. And it’s it’s a complicated, very frustrating system and I would like it to have an overhaul. So any movement on that, I think, poses a contrast to what we see on the Republican side that they can’t get their house in order to pass, in my opinion, pretty basic bills to make the situation better for everybody, everybody on this call.
I agree. I think the strongest point of Biden’s section of that was talking about what path to legal immigration. But like others have said he didn’t really harp on that he kind of started in a blame game. I also thought it was pretty embarrassing to recognize a woman that got murdered by illegal immigrant by calling her Lincoln Riley, who is a college football coach, and not her actual name. And so that was quite an embarrassing moment. I thought for Biden, in the moment I was was getting yelled at.
Anyone else?
I think I have a warped view on the immigration bill. I’m married to a Haitian man. And
it never seems to benefit. Anyone that looks like him, or my husband or me. It always benefits other people. So for me, every time I hear them talk about immigrants, or they are the bills, I’m always thinking, Hmm, usually they’d benefit people that don’t look a lot like me. There was a fair amount of content about foreign policy and national security and Joe Biden’s speech, the reaction among swing voters was decidedly mixed. Let’s listen why Biden spent a fair amount of time talking about national security, global issues such as Israel, Palestine, Russia, Ukraine, what was your reaction to how he addressed foreign policy? Take five of you.
I thought it was actually pretty strong. He echoed the necessity for America to be a global leader with the conflicts in the Middle East, as well as Eastern Europe right now. And of mine, that position forward on both fronts, so I thought was actually pretty positive.
I will disagree. I spent five years in the Marine Corps, half under the Obama administration and half under the Trump administration. And I just didn’t hear anything that resonated with anybody that is serving in the military right now, that would make them feel more confident about where we are on the global stage. I just, I can’t imagine anybody taking something positive from that. I’ll give him half a point here, at least was addressing the sharp priorities on the global stage and trying to strike that balance between how we contribute without putting American boots on the ground so that I gave him a half a point. I agree. I liked how he like with, especially with the aid and stuff with Israel. I did like how like we’re gonna put that boat out there not have the troops on the ground, and just have it so that we’re able to get that and then demand that those supplies get to the people who need that and Gaza Strip by that. I did like that point of it.
I think
I think it’s hollow. I think his words are talking words. He’s talking both sides of his mouth. He doesn’t want to take a hard position one way or the other when it pertains to Israel. And he’s basically taking ownership for it.
I think he only talks about
the what’s going on in the Gaza Strip, as well as what’s going on in the Ukraine. But
yes, he spent a lot of money on that. But at the same time, there are other things that he spent money on when you talk about former global presence that he didn’t bring up. And, and I always look at those things. I didn’t hear him mention China, which is our greatest national security threat. I could have missed it. But that’s the national security but they need to be talking about along with Ukraine and Iran. He did talk about China. I mean, I did it but he brought up the product. He brought up Trump. He was just talking about Trump when it related to China. So I agree he kind of left that.
No, I think he said
sometimes in an important speech, it’s not the content that matters most is this style. Here. Most of our undecided voters were overtly critical of the president. So Christine, I’m gonna play off of that for a moment for all of you. How many of you thought Joe Biden yelled at you tonight? Based on his delivery? Wow.
More than half of you. It’s like what Brandi said, I honestly thought that because of his age that he just couldn’t hear. And I know elderly people tend to screen.
Zachary.
I thought he was trying to take a different tone than he’s always whispering during his speeches. So maybe he was trying something different, but it just was overpowering. And too much. Guy you thought he yelled at you?
He sounded like a Donald old man shaking his fist at the clouds.
Logan, you agree?
Yeah, I think he’s got a communication problem. And this is a new, new trial for him.
Anyone else want to comment on this? It was just very Get off my lawn.
Randy, I think the communication problem is the main thing. Like I said, I’m a speech pathologist. So I deal with people that deal with hearing language issues. I don’t think he can hear. I don’t think he wears hearing aids. And I think he’s got a he. So he doesn’t realize how loud he’s been.
I think he was trying to create enthusiasm by raising his voice and creating a different tone. But in reality, it very much was almost scary, in a way in the ways that he kind of yelled at certain things and created certain exclamation points, so to speak, that almost seemed verbal. I think his yelling was overcompensating for the fact that he can’t get things done. And he’s just yelling at people to do it for him. So I didn’t think he was yelling. I think he was trying to be passionate. That’s what I try to do.
I totally agree with that. I thought he was trying to be passionate as well.
As he
did he succeed or fail?
According to everybody here, he didn’t succeed.
Right. I don’t think he succeeded. But I definitely think he tried. And he was trying to be enthusiastic and passionate and show he was really in there with us. But no, it didn’t win me over. But here’s the point, right? The word trying we keep saying he’s trying he’s testing. He’s, he’s not authentic. This is just a complete waste of time. And he’s an authentic doesn’t mean when he says, Well, they’re all I’m fedtech. They’re politicians.
That’s why we’re in trouble. Yeah. CNN analyzed this and said this was the most political speech in many, many, many years in the State of the Union address. Do you agree with that analysis? Yep. Yeah.
Why was it so political? And was that appropriate? No, I don’t think it’s appropriate. I don’t think it was appropriate, because I agree. It was like more of a political campaign speech, like he’s trying to, I don’t think it was as he was more trying to get your vote, then make it about what he’s going like, what about about how we’re, where we are right now? What we’re gonna do better? I think it’s appropriate. Every president does that in an election here. If they’re going to get reelected?
No matter? I’ve heard a lot. I think he’s scared. I was watching the clock. He started to get partisan and election within so to two minutes from the start of his speech. So this was a election year speech, his stump speech, nothing more.
I agree. It was in a state of the union. He was not talking about the people to the people he was talking. He was making a point so that he can get his voters up.
Curious if Trump hadn’t completely gnarly like if this speech happened to fall one week earlier, before Super Tuesday, and hypothetically, Trump still wasn’t the presumptive nominee, even though polling says he would have been regardless, I would have been curious how much still would have been directed towards him, because the predecessor is his political opponent. And I do feel like you got a lot of politics in that because it’s going to be a rematch of the last election. But it definitely felt of a State of the Union from a candidate, not the State of the Union from a president. I’ve heard the Democratic strategist all over the news talking about we need to remind people what it was like when President Trump was President, and I think that’s what he was trying to do. Yeah. The speech that President Trump gave, I think of the Rose Garden. That was a campaign speech. That was more political, but I think both of them at the end of the day are trying to run re election using all the tools in their arsenal, including the bully pulpit. So I think we have Fair’s fair.
The Union piece of it, since we’re talking about that, if you are, we cannot talk about the state of the union without mentioning Donald Trump. I think that that’s where people are like, Okay, if he had not talked about
The quote unquote, predecessor, we would have still been like, Well, why didn’t he say anything about Trump? And if we’re talking about the State of the Union and the potential impact, it does involve Trump, just the mere fact that we’re still talking about him. And he’s on the ballot. He’s made it this far. It is the State of the Union, because it needs to be addressed. From a from a US perspective. What are we going to do? I think the only thing he said that pertain to the State of the Union, he said that the economy is trending up, and I think he was wrong about that.
Look at the numbers. My perspective of a State of the Union is that the President is the leader who looks forward with plans to make everybody’s life be better as possible. You don’t talk about somebody behind you. You don’t blame other stuff. It’s you now. So let’s just move forward. I that’s it’s, I think it is a waste of time to mention other candidates or other this or that, that you’re gonna blame. Yeah, they might have been horrible. But you’re doing it now. So let’s just move forward. I think it was a huge missed opportunity. He could have take the high road, he could have not said anything and said, This is my ideas. Let’s get to the end of this year. This is what I want to do on my next four years, because the presidency for a reelection established, what are you going to do in those next four years, all I heard was like, Oh, him going back and forth. It was like two little kids fighting, a lot of time going out sound bites that appeal to his base without wrapping any substance around it. And one of the things polling is showing is that he doesn’t have a lot of enthusiasm from his own base. So a lot of the speech was just trying to pull his own base up into the fight. I think similar to what Robbie said, I think an aspect of this speech that probably could have pulled me a little bit more in his camp, is to show that he can be an adult in the room. I think one of the reasons his electability was so great, and 2020 is so many people were so scared in the pandemic, and he kind of seemed like your grandfather that was kind of comforting you in the moment. And now he seems like your grandfather that saying random things at the table, and just kind of gelling with everybody else. And so I think that kind of electability to him of being the adult in the room the wise counselor is, is deteriorating in that show tonight. Before ending the session, I asked her undecided swing voters to give Joe Biden one piece of advice based on the State of the Union speech. They didn’t disappoint.
If you were to give
Joe Biden advice, based on what you saw tonight,
to help him win in November. Let’s say that that’s what you wanted. And he were listening to you right now, based on what you saw in the State of the Union address. What advice would you give him and markeesha I’m gonna start with you.
I would say that he really needs to connect with the American people to see what is really needed and where we are, and what we need from leaders in this country.
Sharon from New York, stop blaming everybody else and start taking accountability. Tyler from South Carolina, you need to be an empathetic accountable leader who can breach the divides that you and the other party have created. Randy from Illinois. I agree. I actually think he needs to listen to what the American people want, and be accountable for the mess we are that he’s kind of kept us in pristine from Arizona. He should adopt a more positive tone stop yelling at everyone like he’s angry. I’ve heard voters criticized who haven’t yet made up their minds between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Some people even ridicule them for being an I quote, low information voters unquote. I disagree. They have specific issues and concerns with both candidates. And they simply can’t yet decide which candidate is less of a threat to the things they prioritize. One thing’s for certain it’s going to be a long, ugly eight months. So buckle up and keep coming back to American speaks right here on straight our news. I’m Dr. Frank Luntz. Have an amazing day.

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