At 8 pm on September 1st, speaking from the IndependenceNational Historical Park in Philadelphia, US President Joe Biden went on the offensive.
Setting the rhetorical stage for the upcoming midterm elections, he targeted what he called “MAGA Republicans” in his blistering remarks.
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said.
He asserted that the entire Republican Party is now dominated by a narrow ideological fringe that refuses to recognize free and fair elections, openly discusses violence as a political strategy, and seeks to obstruct the will of the majority of Americans.
Biden’s speech may have been motivated by principle, but it was clearly also motivated by political calculation. An NBC News Poll last month revealed that “threats to democracy” are now seen as the most important issue facing the country, overtaking “cost of living.”
And the public opinion of Biden and of the Democratic Party more generally is on the upswing after a string of policy victories and in light of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Here at Glimpse, we wanted to see beneath the headlines and the traditional multiple-choice polls to better understand public reactions, emotions, and sentiments regarding the speech. So we launched a quick study to 156 registered voters in the United States the morning after the speech. Within an hour, we got back a range of fascinating reactions, including raw and expressive opinions in the words of the respondents.
Here’s what we learned:
Taking a quick look at the Glimpse machine learning-powered NLP (Natural Language Processing) dashboard, we saw that the overwhelming emotion experienced by the audience was anger, either anger at MAGA Republicans or against Biden for attacking them.
Understanding the anger
Diving more deeply into the natural language audience responses, however, revealed important nuance to this anger.
Some of the comments were expected, like the remarks of self-identified registered Republicans who said, “[Biden] is nothing but a senile dictator,” or “Total insanity and hate speech.”
Or even, an opinion this extreme: “Joe Biden is a piece of ****. The Democratic party will be exterminated in the United States of America. They are a threat to democracy and are as evil as the Nazis.”
Alternatively, Glimpse captured this representative remark from a self-identified liberal Democrat: “[Biden’s] opinion is one hundred percent accurate. Trump and the MAGA crowd have done much to undermine democracy in the last six years.”
One fascinating insight from the study is that a substantial number of self-identified independents and Republicans from battleground states were very much in favor of Biden’s speech and his heightened attacks on “MAGA Republicans.”
Their anger, rather than being directed at Biden for perceived divisiveness, was directed at Trump and his followers for being ultimately responsible for the divisiveness.
Here’s an Independent from Fort Myers, Florida:
“I agree with [Biden’s] opinion. The country has been more divided than ever since Trump decided to run for president and it hasn’t gotten much better.
And a Republican from Pennsylvania:
“I think [Biden’s] right, I’m a Republican but don't like the party now because of Trumpism.”
If Biden now has the political breathing room to more openly attack extreme Republicans and Trump and further mobilize the Democratic base without alienating without alienating moderate Republicans and Independents, that’s a huge political advantage for him.
It’s certainly too soon to definitively make this conclusion, but Glimpse will continue to launch agile studies to gather the real words, emotions, and sentiments of American voters to track the vicissitudes of public opinion—and the deep trends beneath the headlines.