We saw all sorts of responses to the president’s State of the Union address last week, but how do Americans feel about some of the issues discussed?
The Washington Post notes from watch the dial-in responses during the speech that the public tended to favor specific policies over general suggestions. “The phrase ‘middle class economics,’ and Obama’s definition of the values that concept embodies, were generally well received by independents and non-college voters, but they did not generate the enthusiasm that such applause lines were designed to elicit,” the Post wrote.
So let’s take a look at some of the policies Obama discussed and how Americans feel about them.
Raising the minimum wage
One of the key components to Obama’s middle-class economics is higher wages. The president has been calling for a raise in the minimum wage since his State of the Union address in 2013. Gallup notes that in November 2013, its polls showed that 76% were in favor of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour (from the current $7.25), and 22% were opposed.
“We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned,” Obama said. “And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
The Washington Post noted that during the speech, “the call for a minimum wage hike generated a big spike among independents.” While most people are in favor of raising the minimum wage, not all Americans seem to place it at the level of importance Obama does. Last year, only 26% of Gallup respondents said the minimum wage issue is extremely important for Obama and Congress to address. While 57% called it extremely or very important, other issues were prioritized, like veterans’ healthcare, pay equality for women, and education.
Another part of Obama’s middle-class economics, tax reform that would target the infamous 1% was laid out in the State of the Union address. “But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the super-rich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do,” Obama said. “And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1% to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college.”
In general, it seems like Americans would welcome some sort of tax reform, as a January poll showed that only 32% are satisfied with the amount Americans pay in federal taxes. But is this shift of tax burden to the upper class what the country is looking for?
According to Gallup, 49% of Americans felt the middle class paid too much in taxes in 2014, and 61% said upper-income people pay too little, suggesting that the majority of Americans would be happy with Obama’s plan for reform — closing loopholes for the rich and using the savings to help out the middle and lower class. But Gallup also notes that only 31% of Americans said that the middle class pays too much and that wealthiest tier pays too little. On top of that, a surprising amount of Americans are satisfied with the tax system as it is — Gallup recorded that 54% of Americans in spring 2014 found their tax bill to be “fair,” though 52% also considered the amount of federal income tax they pay to be too high.
More spending to create more jobs
Obama called for the creation of bipartisan infrastructure plan “that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.” This seems to have the public’s support. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that about three-fourths of Americans support the idea of spending more money on infrastructure projects that would create work.
Congress has not been in the good graces of the American public for some time. It has accomplished very little over the past few years while some big issues have sat in its hands (immigration reform, equal pay, etc.). The approval rating of Congress’s performance is only 15.2%, according to Real Clear Politics. Most Americans are frustrated by the gridlock between parties and with the president. Obama called for more action and willingness to break “out of these tired old patterns” and work together.
A change like that would be welcomed by Americans, 18% of whom mentioned dysfunctional government in Gallup’s monthly measures throughout 2014. In fact, it was the most frequently mentioned issue, even ahead of the economy. The trend has continued into 2015, with a January poll tracking 17% mentioning dissatisfaction with government.
Authorizing the use of force against ISIL
Obama made a formal request for Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. Of course, the U.S. has been launching airstrikes against the organization occupying Iraq and Syria since last summer. But Gallup says that Americans have always supported the effort. In September 2014, 60% of Americans approved of taking military action “in Iraq and Syria against Islamic militants, commonly known as ISIS.”
According to Gallup, 35% of Americans want labor unions to have more influence, while 27% prefer they’d have less influence and 23% want their influence to stay the same. That doesn’t sound like approval for Obama’s call for “laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.” But Gallup also recorded that 53% of Americans approve of unions and71% favor right-to-work laws. During the speech, the Washington Post notes, this and other liberal policies “failed to generate terribly enthusiastic responses.”
The president argued in his speech that it “makes no sense to spend $3 million per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit.” But the American public isn’t with him when it comes to closing Guantanamo Bay. According to Gallup, which has asked the public about the prison four times since 2007, a majority oppose closing the prison. In a 2014 Gallup survey, 66% opposed and 29% favored closing the prison.