President Harry S. Truman delivered the first televised State of the Union address on Jan. 6, 1947. Since then, it's been nearly impossible to find anything else on TV the night our president delivers the annual address to the nation as required by the U.S. Constitution.
The State of the Union gets wall-to-wall coverage on the major network and cable TV. But what are the actual State of the Union ratings? How many people watch? Which president has gotten the highest State of the Union ratings? Which president had the smallest audience? Let's take a look.
Here are the State of the Union ratings for three modern presidents: Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The data were disclosed by Nielson, which provides detailed analysis of consumer viewing behavior and demographics.
President Barack Obama
Obama delivered his first State of the Union address on Feb. 24, 2009, a speech that was officially dubbed as an "Address to the Joint Sessions of Congress." Nearly 52.4 million viewers tuned in, or about 37.2 million households, according to Nielsen. His inaugural State of the Union speech drew the largest number of viewers since President George W. Bush's address following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Viewership of Obama's first speech represented about 32.5 percent of U.S. households with televisions. Forty-nine percent of Americans who were watching TV at the time of Obama's State of the Union tuned in, according to Nielsen.
But after that, it was all downhill.
Obama's second State of the Union address, on Jan. 27, 2010, drew substantially fewer viewers. Only 48 million Americans tuned in, or about 34.2 million households. Only 30 percent of all households watched. Of viewers with their TVs on at the time of of Obama's State of the Union, 45 percent watched.
On Jan. 25, 2011, only 42.8 million viewers watched Obama give his third State of the Union address. By contrast, more than 111 million Americans watched the National Football League's Super Bowl, between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fewer than 37.8 million viewers tuned in for the fourth and final of Obama's State of the Union addresses in his first term, delivered on Jan. 24, 2012, Nielsen reported. That was a decline of 13 percent over the previous year, a remarkable slip given Obama was seeking re-election at the time and was renewing his call for Congress to pass the Buffett Rule, a new tax on millionaires.
It was the smallest audience for any of Obama's State of the Union addresses during his first term.
President George W. Bush
Bush, who served eight years as president, drew his largest television audiences for the State of the Union address in 2002, after the terrorist attacks of 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon, and in 2003, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Nearly 51.8 million Americans watched Bush's State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002, or about 35.6 million households. They represented 33.6 percent of the households with televisions, and 49 percent who had their TV sets on at the time of the speech, according to Nielsen.
A year later, on Jan. 28, 2003, more than 62 million viewers, or 41.4 million households, tuned in for his State of the Union speech as the nation prepared to launch a war on Iraq that year. They represented nearly 39 percent of American households with TVs, and 56 percent of those who had their TVs on at the time of the address.
Those two years marked the highest viewership for State of the Union speeches during the Bush presidency.
President Bill Clinton
Clinton holds the record for State of the Union ratings in the modern era. Nearly 67 million Americans, or 41. 2 million households, tuned in to watch his first post-election speech to the nation on Feb 17, 1993.
Even Clinton's State of the Union address just days after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke failed to draw as many viewers. Only 53 million Americans tuned in for the annual address to the nation on Jan. 27, 1998, according to Nielsen.
Clinton also holds the record for smallest viewership of a State of the Union speech in the modern era. His final address to the nation, on Jan. 27, 2000, drew only 31.5 million viewers, or 22.5 million households. They represented only 22.4 percent of households with TVs.