Two insta-polls conducted by the two networks after Trump's address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night show that large majorities of Americans give it positive reviews. It bears noting at the top that these polls aren't representative samples of the American electorate and are more Republican, because crowds for such speeches skew toward the president's party. But, even with that caveat, the reviews were strong.
In CNN's survey, which measured a group that was about eight points higher Republican than the nation as a whole:
- 57 percent of people said they had a “very positive” reaction to the speech.
- About 7 in 10 said that the policies Trump described would move the country in the right direction and that they were optimistic about his presidency.
And in CBS News's poll:
- 40 percent of Democrats approved at least “somewhat” of what they heard, and 18 percent approved “strongly.”
- 54 percent of Democrats said the speech was “presidential.”
In some ways, Trump is taking advantage of lowered expectations here. In context, his numbers aren't all that remarkable; these speeches traditionally give a president a captive audience and a chance to hone his message for weeks beforehand.
And CNN's polling shows Trump's reviews coming in somewhat below those of his immediate predecessors. In 2009, after President Barack Obama's first speech to a joint session of Congress, 68 percent viewed it very positively. And in 2001, after President George W. Bush's maiden speech to Congress, 66 percent viewed it very positively.
But Trump has often lagged much further behind his predecessors — most notably on his approval and favorability ratings. Although most presidents enter office and have a bit of a honeymoon, in which Americans overwhelmingly approve of them, that hasn't been the case with Trump. He has been stuck around 40 or 45 percent — right where he was during the campaign.
And Trump's speech actually got better marks than any of Obama's State of the Union addresses, which hovered between 44 percent and 53 percent "very positive." (A president's speech to Congress in his first year isn't technically a State of the Union, but it's basically the same set-up.) And Bush was as low as 50 percent in 2003 and 45 percent in 2004 in CNN's polling. So positive reviews weren't a given.
The speech is hardly a panacea for Trump's ills. It's still just a speech, and we've seen indications before that he may put on a more presidential, disciplined face just before he rips it back off.
Trump also didn't delve into policy specifics Tuesday night, and Republicans are eager to hear more about how they are going to make his budget work, reform health care and overhaul the tax system. Trump didn't move the ball forward on those things at all.
In the end, Trump's big moment with Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, who was killed in a raid in Yemen last month, was instructive. It was by far the most powerful moment of the address and probably a reason for many of the positive reviews. But lurking in the background is a dispute over whether the raid actually produced the oodles of good intelligence that the Trump administration has maintained. Carryn Owens was in the crowd, but Ryan Owens's father spoke out over the weekend, asking for answers.
Still, for one night an American public that is largely skeptical of their new president clearly liked what they saw. And that's good for Trump.