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What Does Public Support in Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech?

Inaugural speeches are often criticized as long on rhetoric and short on substance. But President Obama’s second inaugural address on Monday was surprisingly specific about his second-term goals.

Mr. Obama devoted an entire paragraph to climate change and energy, and later in the speech he pointed to several public policy issues where “our journey is not complete,” he said.

Polls show that the president has at least a slim majority of Americans in his corner on almost all of the issues he highlighted. Here’s a look at the most recent polling on some of the agenda items Mr. Obama laid out:

Climate Change

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

The database includes two polls on global warming conducted after the Nov. 6 presidential election. An Associated Press-GfK poll in the field from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 found that 78 percent of respondents said they believed the planet had warmed over the past 100 years, and 49 percent said they thought global warming would be a “very serious” problem for the United States if left unaddressed (31 percent said they thought it would be “somewhat serious”).

Fifty-seven percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed said the United States government should do “a great deal” or “quite a bit” on global warming.

A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll conducted Nov. 8 to 11 found that 57 percent of adults said they thought global warming was increasing the likelihood of storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Same-Sex Marriage

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

On the issue of gay marriage, polls show that Mr. Obama has a slim majority of Americans on his side. The percentage of adults who favor same-sex marriage has been rising steadily for some time.

Five polls on same-sex marriage have been conducted since the election and are included in the database. Each poll uses slightly different question wording, but an average of 51 percent of respondents favored same-sex marriage and 44 percent opposed it.

Voter Identification Laws

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

There haven’t been many polls testing the popularity of long voting lines (although it is hard to imagine their being popular). However, the focus on the nation’s voting process in 2012 largely centered on states’ photo identification laws, like the one in Pennsylvania that was eventually blocked by a judge. On this issue, Mr. Obama does not have the public on his side. Polls asking about laws requiring voters to show photo identification have found a solid majority favoring such laws.

A New York Times/CBS News poll from September and a Fox News poll from April both found 7 in 10 respondents supported requiring a photo identification card to vote. In a Washington Post poll from August, 75 percent of respondents favored photo identification laws.


Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

There is polling on many aspects of immigration policy. But most observers consider the most contentious plank of potential reform to be a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements (the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats will reportedly insist on including such a path in any comprehensive reform bill).

In the database, four surveys have asked about a path to citizenship since the election. Each poll asked slightly different questions and found a range of answers.

A Fox News poll conducted Jan. 15 to 17 found that two in three registered voters favored allowing “illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.” Seventeen percent of the 1,008 voters surveyed supported sending all illegal immigrants back to their native countries.

A CBS News poll from mid-December surveyed 1,179 adults nationwide and found that 47 percent favored allowing illegal immigrants who are currently working in the United States to “eventually apply for U.S. citizenship,” and 27 percent favored requiring illegal immigrants to leave the United States.

In a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll from just after the election, 43 percent of adults favored allowing only those illegal immigrants “who have been here for many years and have broken no other laws to stay here legally.” Another 33 percent supported allowing “all illegal immigrants to stay, provided they have broken no other laws and commit to learning English and U.S. history.”

And an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted Nov. 7 to 11 asked simply, “Do you support or oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants?” Fifty-seven percent of the 1,023 adults surveyed answered “support” and 39 percent answered “oppose.”


Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

The mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., appears to have galvanized support — at least temporarily — for gun control, with polls conducted this month consistently showing support for stricter gun laws in the mid 50s. For example, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that 54 percent of respondents favored tighter gun laws, up from 39 percent in a CBS News poll last April.

A Jan. 17 Gallup poll found 53 percent of adults said they would want their representative to vote for the package of gun law reforms that Mr. Obama proposed. Forty-one percent said they would want their representative to oppose the laws.

The evidence isn’t uniform, however. The most recent Fox News poll found that 51 percent of respondents said that “protecting the constitutional right of citizens to own guns” was more important than “protecting citizens from gun violence.” Forty percent of those surveyed said protecting citizens was more important.

A more granular look at the polling reveals that a number of the proposals put forward by the Obama administration have overwhelming support. In the same Fox News poll, laws requiring criminal background checks and mental health checks on all gun buyers were both favored by more than 80 percent of respondents. (That’s in line with virtually every recent poll on guns. The Times/CBS News poll found that 92 percent of respondents favored background checks on all potential gun buyers.)

Surveys show that bans on certain weapons and ammunition are less popular, but still supported by majorities of adults. Recent polls have found that support for a ban on assault rifles and semiautomatic weapons as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines usually falls in the low 50s to low 60s.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.