The State of the Union is a free opportunity to articulate a president's own message and vision for the country, an annual chance to speak directly to the 30 million to 50 million Americans. So what kind of bump can President Obama expect from tonight's address? Historically speaking, not much.
It seems counterintuitive, but in fact it's extremely rare that a State of the Union address actually changes a president's poll numbers.
In a comprehensive analysis
of past survey results, Gallup's Jeffrey Jones found last year that only a very few presidents have received the mythical post-State of the Union bump. Bill Clinton received a 10-point bounce after his 1998 address, the largest since Gallup began regularly polling the president's approval rating. Clinton's 1996 address, just before his successful reelection bid, gave him a 6-point bounce, while George W. Bush's 2005 State of the Union bolstered his approval rating by 6 points.
No other speech gave a president a polling bump of any statistical significance in Gallup surveys. In fact, a president's numbers were almost as likely to fall as they were to rise after the annual address. Between 1978 and 2008, the president's ratings went down in 14 of the 30 surveys following the State of the Union.