Obama’s SOTU TV Audience Numbers Continue to Drop, Now Lower Than Bush’s Lowest

By Patrick Goodenough | February 15, 2013 | 4:37 AM EST

Men watch President Obama’s State of the Union address on television in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

(CNSNews.com) – The number of Americans tuning in to President Obama’s State of the Union has dropped every year since he first took office, and this year was no exception.

Four million fewer people watched Obama Tuesday night than the smallest audience recorded during all of President Bush’s eight years in office and all but one of President Clinton’s. (See graph.pdf for audience number comparison.)

Nielsen Media Research says an estimated 33,497,607 people watched Obama’s address on one of the 15 networks airing it, which included ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, MSNBC and Current TV – the network former Vice President Al Gore recently sold to Al-Jazeera.

Obama’s audience numbers in 2009 were 52.4 million, in 2010 were 48.1 million, in 2011 were 42.8 million, and last year slipped to 37.7 million.

The trend of State of the Union audience decline during the course of an administration is not new, but even so Bush’s smallest SOTU audience, in his last year in office, was 37.5 million, bigger than Obama’s this year.

Clinton’s SOTU audiences all exceeded Obama’s 2013 one, with the exception of 2000 – Clinton’s last year in office – when his speech attracted just 31.5 million, according to Nielsen.

Compared to his two predecessors at the same point in their presidencies – the first year of a second term – Obama’s 33.5 million viewers in 2003 were fewer than Clinton’s 41.1 million in 1997 and Bush’s 38.4 million in 2005.

Clinton began on a very high note, with 66.9 million tuning in to watch his February 1993 speech (first term inauguration year speeches to Congress are not technically SOTUs).

He saw his audience numbers drop to 45.8 million the following year, then further decline through most of his two terms. The exception was 1998, when it jumped to 53.1 million. (That year’s SOTU was delivered just one day after Clinton denied, during a nationally-televised press conference, having had “sexual relations” with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.)

Bush began on a more modest note, drawing 39.8 million to his 2001 speech. The audience jumped in 2002 to 51.7 million, likely the result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks five months earlier, and climbed further still the following year, to 62 million, as the Iraq war loomed.

Viewer numbers fell in 2004 (43.4 million) and 2005 (38.4 million), lifted again in 2006 (41.7 million) and 2007 (45.5 million), before dropping to a low of 37.5 million in 2008, Bush’s final year in the White House.

When taken as an average across the three presidencies, Obama’s SOTU viewership for his five speeches to date is 42.8 million – lower than both Bush’s (45.0 million) and Clinton’s (45.6 million).

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow