As John Sides and I argued in an article (PDF) in the political science journal The Forum, a better approach for reporters would be to take what is essentially the opposite angle from the Politico lede quoted above and use the finding that SOTUs rarely create a “bounce” to draw out the challenges that Obama faces given his inability to change public opinion with this speech. Reporters could also investigate how decisions were made within the administration about the policy priorities in the address and how those are likely to contrast with the positions taken by the Republican candidate in the general election. At a minimum, though, both national media outlets and those here in New Hampshire should try to avoid covering instant poll results or at least provide proper context about their scientific validity.

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Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at and tweets @BrendanNyhan.