Biden got feisty at the State of the Union, and voters ate it up

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If President Joe Biden's feisty performance at the State of the Union on Thursday was representative of a man in decline, some viewers walked away thinking old age might not be that bad after all.

"I hope I get this kind of dementia," comedic writer Alex Baze quipped. What follows are a handful of sections that had the group reaching for their dials. 

The speech was chock full of red meat for Democrats about protecting democracy, standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, codifying reproductive freedoms, taxing billionaires and corporations, cutting health care costs, and banning assault weapons. Biden gave Democrats in the chamber and at home plenty to stand up and cheer about.

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson complained, "This whole speech is about rallying Democrats. Not persuading independents."

Never Trumper and Bulwark publisher Sarah Longwell quote tweeted Erickson, observing, "The substance is about rallying Democrats. But the delivery is about showing hesitant swing voters he's still up for the job. And I think it's working."

Sure enough, post-speech, Democrats in the chamber were ebullient, Republicans ran for the exits, and a giddy Biden had to be yanked away by staffers. 

Biden's oration wasn't perfect—he clipped some words, stumbled here and there—but he came out swinging and kept swinging throughout. No one who watched the speech doubted Biden’s passion for U.S. democracy, his command of the issues, and his fundamental belief in the American people.  

And if Erickson was worried about non-Democrats feeling left out, good news—the speech also tested quite well among a live-reaction dial group of 30 soft partisans and independents in the Phoenix area hosted by Navigator Research.

Biden opened the speech talking about the threat to freedom and democracy here at home and abroad, and several of these early moments set the tone for the night.

Biden said the violent Jan. 6 insurrection "posed the gravest threat to U.S. democracy" since the Civil War.

"But they failed," Biden said to applause. "America stood."

The section tested well among all age groups and then spiked to 70 (out of 100) with voters under 40 (the green line) when Biden added, "Here’s the simple truth. You can’t love your country only when you win."

Dials turned ⬆️ when Biden talked about January 6th and the importance of protecting U.S. democracy.

— Navigator Research (@NavigatorSurvey) March 8, 2024

Biden invited all lawmakers, "without regard to party, to join together and defend democracy."

"Remember your oath of office is defending against all threats foreign and domestic," he said.

The under-40 dials hit 70 again when Biden added, "And make clear political violence has absolutely no place—no place in America—zero place!"

"I ask all of you without regard to party to join together and defend democracy." This statement was well-received across the board 📈

— Navigator Research (@NavigatorSurvey) March 8, 2024

On Ukraine, Biden said his message to Putin was simple, "We will not walk away. We will not bow down. I will not bow down."

But watch numbers tank into the 30s when Biden quoted Trump telling Putin to "do whatever the hell you want," and then spike when Biden says, "It's outrageous, it's dangerous, and it's unacceptable." 

Dials turned up when Biden said it's unacceptable that Trump told Putin to "do whatever the hell you want."

— Navigator Research (@NavigatorSurvey) March 8, 2024

Biden also received a lot of positive ratings among independents during the economic section of his speech. 

As Biden talked about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the country, the dials hit the 60s and 70s.

"And now instead of importing foreign products and exporting American jobs,” he said, “we’re exporting American products and creating American jobs—right here in America where they belong!"

Made in 🇺🇸 Those under 40 led an upturn in positive reactions when Biden touted U.S. exports. #SOTU2024

— Navigator Research (@NavigatorSurvey) March 8, 2024

Biden also said he was proud to be the first president to walk a picket line.  

"Wall Street didn’t build America," Biden said. "The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class!"

"I say to the American people: When America gets knocked down, we get back up!"

President Biden: I'm proud to be the first President to walk a picket line. Wall Street didn't build this country, the middle class did. It’s because of you, our country is stronger, brighter. We can proudly say, the state of our union is strong and getting stronger

— Biden-Harris HQ (@BidenHQ) March 8, 2024

Navigator's lead pollster, Bryan Bennett, called the section the "highest one-two punch of the night." The dials broke 70 among the younger voters at Biden's mention of the middle class and then broke 80 among voters over 40 when he asserted that the country gets back up after being knocked down.

Biden also logged two notable moments on gun control and reproductive freedom. Watch the under-40 dials nearly reach 80 when Biden calls for an assault weapons ban.

"I’m demanding a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines! Pass universal background checks!" Biden said, adding, "I taught the Second Amendment for 12 years—none of this violates the Second Amendment or vilifies responsible gun owners.

As President Biden spoke on his administration's actions on gun violence, positive reactions SPIKED among watchers under age 40.

— Navigator Research (@NavigatorSurvey) March 8, 2024

Bennett also called it a "wow moment" when Biden called for protecting abortion rights and Democratic dials hit mid-70s while Republicans remained almost unchanged.

"If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you, I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again!" Biden said.

"Huge spike among Dems when Biden calls for protecting abortion rights; Reps are neutral and don’t dial down reflexively," noted Bennett. 

Biden hit a lot of good notes for Democrats Thursday and, importantly, he did it with vigor—so much vigor, in fact, that Republicans who’ve spent years calling him “sleepy Joe” complained he was too energetic. 

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