Key Takeaways

  • President Biden aggressively outlined an agenda for the year that would include more programs designed to ensure Americans feel the economic recovery in the nation, not just hear about it. The President is forcefully pushing against the perception vs. reality election we are having in 2024.
  • Democrats will be running with an economic message and a cultural one, with reproductive rights being near the center.
  • Republicans presented a lighter contrast Thursday night—a younger vision of the Republican Party, a corrective version that insists the economy isn’t working for everyone and a plea to suburban mothers—a key voting block.
  • This election season isn’t just about tensions in Congress and on the campaign trail but rather a growing polarization of ideologies—a shift that is likely to be felt in relationships between employees and employers. This is especially the case in organizations that have a front-line workforce that might differ demographically from the team at headquarters. Businesses should understand how employees feel when discussing workplace benefits, compensation, and other issues that might cause tension between themselves and their team members. 

The State of the Union is a constitutional obligation in Article II, Section 3 that has grown into a primetime event over the past few decades. Originally designed as a very precise book report, the State of the Union is generally when the President can tout his accomplishments and lay out his vision for the nation. However, during an election year, the State of the Union Address is just one tool of many that the President has to make the case for reelection.

President Biden’s State of the Union Address was delivered against the backdrop of the presidential election and was largely a campaign speech. The President highlighted a range of domestic policy concerns, growing the economy, defending “freedom and democracy” both at home and abroad, and how he plans to move the country forward. In an attempt to paint a clear picture for the American people, the President—who not once mentioned former President Trump by name—previewed a second term agenda through a series of proposals, including on reproductive rights, gun control, housing, taxes, and healthcare spending. 


Biden’s Case for Reelection Hinges on Perception v. Reality 

A key question voters ask in an election year is cliché: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? The President made his case that the economic situation in the country has improved for most Americans. He spoke to low unemployment, slowing inflation and record small business growth. Yet most Americans still believe the economy is not working for them, underscoring that our nation’s economic conversation is one of perception vs. reality. Americans still see high prices at the grocery store and, when looking at investments that traditionally build wealth like homeownership, high interest rates put those goals out of reach for many Americans buying their first home. The State of the Union provided the President an opportunity to, first, make the case that he’s helped stabilize and grow the economy and, second, point to the direct policies that will be felt in the near future. 

  • The President outlined a few new policies that he believes will help the American people who are still feeling the pain of the economy, including a mortgage tax credit, elimination of title insurance in federally backed mortgages, and cracking down on predatory landlords.
  • Businesses are in a tricky situation. Even if the President insists that he’s not anti-corporation, in many instances, businesses find themselves on the other side of economic conversations as the villain. Anticipating criticism, the US Chamber of Commerce circulated a list of where they believe the Biden administration has wrongly blamed them for high prices. 


Democrats are Hinging Their Early Case for Reelection on Social Issues, Especially the Right to Reproductive Care 

The President believes that abortion is once again going to be a key campaign issue this year. As polling has shown, a majority of Americans agreed with the longstanding Roe v. Wade decision that effectively legalized abortion in the US. One of the reasons Democrats were strong in 2022 and 2023 was because of the public backlash that followed the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Republicans are again on the defensive after the Alabama Supreme Court banned in vitro fertilization (IVF), a process many families who struggle to get pregnant use to have children. The President referenced former President Trump when speaking about this issue (referring to him as “his predecessor”) and his bragging about appointing justices to the Supreme Court that overturned Roe.

  • But…the President understands he has limited ability to act without Congress. This is one of the reasons that the President continues to hedge what action he can take in the fight for reproductive freedom by saying voters have to send him the right Congress, to craft the right legislation.
  • Also of note: The President spoke to the Supreme Court directly, saying, “Women are not without political or electoral power.” 

Biden Taunts Congress on Immigration

The President touted his bipartisan border security deal as the “toughest set of border security reforms” ever proposed. During his address, he noted the provisions that would decrease illegal immigration—expanding the security workforce, investing in state-of-the-art drug detection technology, and enacting “new emergency authority to temporarily shut down the border” if encounters reach 5,000 in a day.

However, Republicans are not on board. The President condemned their play of politics, noting that former President Trump played a hand in tanking the deal by calling on Republicans in Congress to block the bill from advancing. Even mentioning Laken Riley—the 22-year-old nursing student who was recently murdered by an illegal border crosser in Georgia—he called on Congress to “get this bill done” in a show of bipartisanship to solve the border crisis and end future crimes impacting our communities.

While presenting his case for strong border security, the President still made it clear he would not “demonize immigrants saying they are poison in the blood of our country.” Instead, he contrasted his predecessor’s immigration positions by denoting America as the “home to people from every place on Earth.” 


A Note About Age and Rhetoric

As President Biden walked into the Capitol for the State of the Union Address, expectations were tempered. To fight the narrative that he is too old for the office, Biden did everything he could to come across as lively, sparring back and forth with Republicans who ignored traditional House decorum.

Republicans will undoubtedly push Biden’s age as one main reason he should not be president. While President Trump is only a few years younger, this has been an effective way to put doubts in many Americans’ minds about whether he’s up for the job. However, like most messaging, this can backfire as Americans begin to focus more on issues like the economy, foreign policy and immigration. 


Republicans Respond

Alabama Senator Katie Britt—the youngest woman in the Senate and a candidate for Trump’s VP pick—delivered the Republican rebuttal from her kitchen table in Montgomery, Alabama. Britt attacked the President, saying he was weak on border policy and offered a hint into where Republicans see an additional political opening this fall. The Senator also made a plea to suburban women—a key voting block—and defended the right to IVF.

  • The SOTU rebuttal address is sometimes as heavily analyzed and critiqued as the President’s—and Senator Britt’s response was no exception. While former President Trump praised Britt for standing with him on protecting IVF despite her state’s Supreme Court ruling, Democrats attacked her performance as overly performative.
  • Britt hinged her response on trying to share the perspective of middle-class families in America, focusing on the pains felt by inflation, family issues like childcare costs and inability to afford a home, and a decreased perception of safety as stories of violent criminals crossing the border illegally have threatened American communities. Senator Britt’s address serves as an example of the political parties’ dueling perceptions of the state of the US—Democrats presenting a comeback story; Republicans warning of a declining moral and economic state. 

This content offers a high-level synopsis of the day’s events. It is intended to provide information only, not opinion, and it is not representative of any specific Edelman work.

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