What Was The Least-Watched State Of The Union Address Of All Time?

Since 1913, an American president has delivered an in-person address to a joint session of the House and Senate 85 times, according to the official House of Representatives website. The purpose of the address is to "give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," as the Constitution explains. Over the years, the State of the Union equivalent hasn't always been delivered face-to-face, and it's been called different things, from just the Annual Message to state of the Union, and finally, the State of the Union Address (per the House of Representatives website).

The first televised State of the Union address came from President Harry Truman in 1947. By the 2016 State of the Union, TV ratings dropped to an all-time low. Via Politico, the State of the Union that year was broadcast on the "big four" TV networks, as well as the usual suspects on cable, such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, among others. It was also featured on Spanish-language networks, Al Jazeera America, and Fox Business. The president delivering the address had an average 58% approval rating, much higher than his immediate predecessors, according to Gallup. So what, then, explains such low TV ratings?

President Obama's final State of the Union

According to Politico, the final State of the Union Address delivered by President Barack Obama in 2016 drew roughly 31.3 million viewers across all networks via Nielsen Media Research and the Nielsen TV ratings, which was an all-time low, although cable news viewership did see an increase (via Politico). In the speech, Obama touched on economic recovery since 2008, health care reform, and other positive messages, per the Obama White House Archives. So why didn't more people tune in?

Explaining the low TV ratings for Obama's last State of the Union address could be the fact it was simulcast on YouTube and via the White House website, two platforms that Nielsen doesn't track. Nor does Nielsen track C-SPAN, which also carried the speech (via Politico). The first webcast of the State of the Union came some 14 years earlier, in 2002, during the administration of George W. Bush (per the official House of Representatives website). By 2016, though, internet media was much more prevalent. Therefore, the low TV ratings of President Obama's farewell State of the Union address could have more to do with the viewing habits of the public than anything the president said, or what the general population's opinion of the president was at the time.