Obama’s Energy Boost

By Alan Boyle
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When a politician starts talking about renewable energy and carbon caps, pollster Stan Greenberg usually sees what he calls a “glazing-over” moment – as in voters’ eyes glazing over with disinterest. But when President Obama talked about how America had to take back the lead in energy innovation, that moment didn’t come.

Instead, Democrats as well as Republicans picked up on Obama’s call for energy independence, and revved up the debate on the morning after.

Energy was the first of three top priorities Obama put forward on Tuesday during his first presidential address to Congress, coming before health care and education. The initiatives he cited have been mentioned previously, but what was new this time was that he cast those initiatives as a national crusade, before a national audience.

“I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t, either,” Obama said. “It is time for America to lead again.”

Greenberg said that sentiment resonated strongly among Republicans as well as Democrats, based on a viewer-dial poll conducted with a focus group of 50 voters in Las Vegas. Such polls are far from precise: The survey participants merely turn dials during the speech to reflect how positive or negative they feel about what the speaker is saying. But the lines on the chart do provide an instant read of how key phrases are received.

“There was a very strong response to energy independence, and acting on it,” Greenberg told me during a post-address teleconference. “We’ve seen this before, earlier in the campaign and during the debates, but it’s clearly very strong.”The surprising thing for Greenberg was that it stayed strong even when Obama dived into the details.

“I watched to see when he talked about renewable energy and carbon caps … the lines did not go down,” he said. “They were already fairly high on energy stuff, but they did not go down. Usually that stuff produces glazing over.”

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