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Tom Murse

How Many People Really Watch the State of the Union?

By January 24, 2012

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Barack Obama

President Barack Obama delivers the fourth State of the Union address of his presidency at 9 tonight. If you own a television set, it will be almost impossible to avoid.

All the major networks - ABC, CBS, NBC - will carry the annual policy speech before a joint session of Congress, and for good reason. The State of the Union is no ordinary speech. It is the political event of the year. And in an election year, it is unmatched in its import.

So how many people will actually watch?

State of the Union ratings in recent years show that only a quarter to a third of all households that own television sets tune in, according to Nielsen, which tracks viewer behavior and demographics. Last year, 42.8 million viewers, or 30.9 million households, tuned in for Obama's State of the Union address.

Sure, it sounds like a lot. But consider this: 111 million Americans watched the National Football League's Super Bowl, between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, in February. Nearly 40,000 tuned into the Academy Awards. And about 24 million watched American Idol on any given Wednesday last year.

Read more about State of the Union ratings here.

Photo: President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in January 2011. (Getty Images News)

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