Amid bipartisan disagreements and continuing economic struggles, President Barack Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union address tonight in the nation’s capital.
Members of the University community including professors and campus political group leaders anticipate that Obama’s speech will be reminiscent of last year’s address, in that he will discuss the importance of boosting the nation’s economy and increasing bipartisan efforts in Congress.
Charles Shipan, chair of the University’s Department of Political Science, said though economic issues have been a prominent topic of discussion throughout Obama’s time in office, Obama will most likely reiterate the progress made so far toward stabilizing the economy.
“It’s the number one issue for most people who will be listening to his speech,” Shipan said. “There are improvements since last year, but they’re not widespread, they’re concentrated.
“He can’t think, ‘I talked about this last year, and we’re moving in the right direction.’ He has to talk about how he wants to deal with it,” Shipan added.
Michael Traugott, a University professor of communication studies and research professor at the University’s Institute for Social Research, said that while some strides have been made since the thick of the recession, Obama will most likely argue that this progress isn’t enough. Traugott said Obama will probably attempt to persuade the House Republicans not to block further economic revitalization efforts.
Traugott added that he anticipates Obama will also discuss educational efforts, research funding, areas of strategic investment, tax cuts for the middle class and the growth of labor industries.
In addition to economic issues, Shipan said Obama is also likely to talk about health care, the importance of bipartisanship and the budget deficit.
Since the new Republican-controlled House approved to repeal the Affordable Care Act last Wednesday with a 245-189 vote, Shipan speculated that Obama will highlight the benefits of the bill and simplify it to further the public’s understanding of the legislation.
“I think a lot of people feel correctly that the administration hasn’t done a great job of selling (health care) to people,” Shipan said.
Though Obama may cite effective bipartisanship efforts, like the December 2010 agreement to extend tax cuts at all income levels, Traugott said the future will present many more obstacles for the divided Congress, particularly on issues involving funding for research.
“Republicans are going to go after research funding, and he’s going to try to protect that,” Traugott said.
Traugott said he might address other disagreements between the parties, including concerns about federal expenditures on defense, Social Security and Medicare.
Shipan said public opinion will also play a role in Obama’s choice of topics, as he will be looking to maintain recent popularity growth in polls and to reach out to Americans who may support him in the 2012 election.
“I do think that what presidents say in the State of the Union does have an effect on people’s attitudes,” Shipan said. “It’s not going to change the minds of anyone sitting in that room, but it may change the minds of some constituents.”
LSA junior Charles Bogren, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said it will be essential for Obama to detail exactly what certain policy changes mean for the public.
“I think they’re going to be displeased if he doesn’t go into specifics, and the American people deserve to know the specifics,” Bogren said.
Bogren added that Obama’s speeches regarding issues like the economy have yielded “empty promises” thus far and that he thinks many Americans are beginning to realize their wishes have been unfulfilled.
“At this point, the American people have seen past all the empty promises and campaign-style rhetoric that Obama has been using and just telling people the economy is going to get better,” Bogren said.
LSA junior Brendan Campbell, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said it is essential for Obama to be specific regarding policy change initiatives he has passed over the past year. Campbell anticipates that by explaining also how Americans have been positively affected through legislation, they will become increasingly supportive of his policies.
“We’ve seen that when the progress that’s been made over the past two years is clearly outlined, the public responds very positively,” Campbell said. “So upon reflection of our progress and looking at how we can continue to make this progress, his message will resonate well among viewers.”
Campbell said he anticipates Obama will talk about the upcoming struggle his administration will face with the Republican-controlled House and his aim to have legislators reach out across the aisle.
“So now with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, change is definitely going to be more difficult,” Campbell said. “With that said, I still think that President Obama will be able to work well with his Republican colleagues to further progress.”