That’s what the numbers say, but I’ve been burned before by trusting preliminary ratings for political speeches so the headline gets a question mark. At first blush, Clinton’s DNC speech looked like it had underperformed. It hadn’t. The initial ratings for Romney’s first debate with Obama looked great. Then, after the later data came in, they looked super-fantastic. I assume Obama will be getting an upward revision too that’ll put him more in line with last year’s audience, although Entertainment Weekly makes the point that some of the public might have skipped the O Show last night to watch the drama play out with Christopher Dorner in California.
If these numbers do hold up, it’ll be the smallest SOTU audience a president has had since Clinton’s 2000 address, which was the eighth year in office for a guy who was known to be long-winded in major speeches and had little of major import to comment on by the end. As disliked as he was in his second term, Dubya never sank below 37.5 million viewers; according to Nielsen, O’s audience last night was 33.5 million. Could be that there’s less interest in a SOTU that closely follows a newly reelected president’s second inaugural, as Dubya’s audience dipped below 40 million in 2005. Then again, Clinton’s 1997 numbers were actually a slight improvement over the year before. Maybe this is Obama fatigue in action, maybe it’s a byproduct of the Dorner standoff, or maybe it’s just an artifact of preliminary ratings typically lowballing events like these. We’ll know by tomorrow. One reason to believe the answer lies behind door number one, though: Obama’s audience has declined steadily by about five million viewers every year since 2009. This would be consistent with the trend. Who besides his most loyal supporters isn’t tired of listening to him by now?
One other intriguing footnote, per Noah Rothman at Mediaite: According to Bing’s massive real-time viewer tracker, the most negatively received section of Obama’s speech was — ta da — gun control. If you follow the last link and eyeball the graph, you’ll see that viewer sentiment started to rebound around the time he began mentioning relatives of shooting victims in the audience, but the lead up to that moment about bringing new regulations to a vote was fall-off-a-cliff time for Republicans and independents. I wonder why. Was it the fact that his gun-control pitch is based, essentially, on non sequiturs and demagoguery?