Liking what they saw

LIKING WHAT THEY SAW…. President Obama had more than one audience last night. He was certainly trying to encourage the lawmakers sitting in front of him to act on his vision of health care reform. But just as important, if not more so, were the Americans watching at home. The more the public supports reform, the more politicians are likely to deliver.

So, did the president connect? We’ll know more in the coming days — the speech only ended 12 hours ago — but for now, the early evidence seems encouraging for the White House. A CNN poll suggests the speech was a winner.

Two out of three Americans who watched President Barack Obama’s health care reform speech Wednesday night favor his health care plans — a 14-point gain among speech-watchers, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll of people who tuned into Obama’s address Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress.

Sixty-seven percent of people questioned in the survey say the support Obama’s health care reform proposals that the president outlined in his address, with 29 percent opposed…. About one in seven people who watched the speech changed their minds on Obama’s health care plan. “Going into the speech, a bare majority of his audience — 53 percent — favored his proposals. Immediately after the speech, that figure rose to 67 percent,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland…. Seven in 10 say that Obama’s policies will move the country in the right direction, up 10 points from before the speech.

The CNN poll’s sample had a Democratic tilt, so the overall results should probably be taken with a grain of salt. That said, even with a Dem edge in the sample, respondents’ reactions shifted in a positive direction, which is what reformers hoped to see.

Democracy Corps, meanwhile, hosted a focus-group session last night, with “independent and weak partisan” participants. Those viewers were impressed, too.

With his speech before Congress and the nation tonight, Barack Obama was effective in cutting through the misinformation and partisan bickering over health care and reaching swing voters, many of whom entered the evening harboring real skepticism about his plan. Obama succeeded in reassuring voters of all political stripes on some of their biggest concerns about reform while also energizing supporters and avoiding the kind of polarization that could drive away independents and Republicans. Moreover, the reaction of Republicans in the audience, including the heckling of the president by Rep. Joe Wilson, generated a strong backlash among focus group participants who expressed deep frustration with Republicans for putting partisan politics ahead of solving the nations’ problems.

Support for Obama’s proposal jumped 20 points, and respondents were far less likely to believe conservative complaints about reform after hearing the address. What’s more, this focus group found that the president saw a big gain on the “on your side” question.

We’ll have to wait to see if these numbers hold up, and it’s likely that conservatives will try to quickly quash any post-speech bump. In some ways, that’s what makes Joe Wilson’s outburst even more of a problem for the GOP — they’re having to criticize Wilson’s buffoonery when they want to be criticizing the president.