It seems that POTUS was very pleased with the number of viewers for his 2018 State of the Union speech. On Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted how how many people watched the SOTU, and said his speech had the most viewers making. Trump claimed the 45.6 million watchers represented the largest viewing audience "in history." But that's simply not true.
From the past four administrations, President George W. Bush had the largest SOTU viewership, with 62 million in 2003. That was a whopping 10 million more viewers than his previous record, which was his 52 million-strong SOTU speech in 2002. Presidents Obama and Clinton also beat Trump's 45.6 million, with 48 million viewers for Obama in 2010, and nearly 46 million for Clinton in 1994.
Even Trump himself has had a better showing, with 2 million more viewers for his first joint address to Congress last year.
None of it has stopped the president from tweeting his thanks to all those who had complimented his speech, followed up with the boast that "45.6 million people watched, the highest number in history." Trump also gave a shout out to Fox News, who "beat every other Network, for the first time ever." He ended his Thursday tweet by proudly declaring, "Delivered from the heart!"
It's an episode reminiscent of Trump's preoccupation with the size of his inauguration crowd. In both cases, the reality of how many people were really there seems less important to Trump than what he wants to be true.
Trump shouldn't take declining viewership personally. The number of SOTU viewers has been declining for well over two decades now, Alvin Chang points out at Vox. In his first address to the joint session of Congress in 1993, Clinton drew the most viewers of all — 67 million. Since Republicans had held executive control for 12 years — first under President Ronald Reagan's two terms, followed by one term for President George H.W. Bush — Americans were extra curious about what the newly elected Democratic president had to say.
And traditionally, the draw of the SOTU diminishes over a president's term. Obama's final SOTU speech in 2016 hit record-low viewership numbers, with just 31.3 million tuning in on television. During an election year, with copious campaign coverage and either the possibility or guarantee of a new POTUS (depending on if the sitting president has another potential term or not), Americans tend to care much less about the annual presidential address.
Trump's first SOTU failed to draw more viewers than the same inaugural SOTU from any of his three predecessors. As Dominic Patten notes at Deadline, that makes Trump's the least watched first SOTU speech in nearly 25 years.
Trump's speech also happened to be the third-longest in the past 50 years, at a full 80 minutes.
During that speech, Trump praised the economic recovery, trumpeting his own role in bringing about more prosperity. While he memorably used the term "American carnage" in his inauguration speech to describe his bleak view of closed down factories and stagnating towns, Trump's SOTU was largely celebratory of the economy.
He also proposed $1.5 trillion in spending on infrastructure to improve the country's roads, airports, bridges, and other projects. Democrats criticized his plan, though, noting Trump was only committing $200 billion in federal dollars, planning to make up the difference with contributions from local state contributions and private investment.
In addition, Democrats took vocal issue with Trump's attack on chain migration, the policy of prioritizing family members of immigrants already living here for visas. They booed and hissed at the president for what Democrats largely view as his bigoted approach to immigration policy.
If history is any indicator, Trump's 2018 SOTU speech will see even fewer viewers tune in.