Surprise: Last night's SOTU lowest-rated of Obama's presidency

The inevitable conclusion to days of hype from the media about how this might be the most important speech of his presidency. To put this in perspective, roughly 130 million people voted in the 2008 presidential election and even more will turn out at the polls two years from now. Maybe a quarter of that number watched last night (not everyone who tuned in will end up voting, after all) and only a teeny tiny percentage of them will remember so much as a single line. So here’s a reality check for the next time you see some poll showing the public applauding his airy promises about “investing” in infrastructure while the country sinks deeper into an ocean of debt. If he had dealt honestly in the speech with the issues of spending and sustainability, I’d have considered the ratings decline a crying shame. As it is, who cares?

On Tuesday, January 25, 2011 President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. The address was carried live from approximately 9:00 PM- 10:15 PM on 11 networks. The sum of the average audience for those networks was 42,789,947 viewers, with a combined household rating of 26.6. The networks carrying the address included ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, TEL, UNI, CNN, Centric, CNBC, FOXNC, and MSNBC. Viewership to last night’s address was down 18% from his address on February 24, 2009 and down 11% from his State of the Union address last year on January 27, 2010.

His first SOTU (which technically wasn’t a SOTU) in 2009 drew 52 million viewers and a combined network rating of 32.5. Last year’s got 48 million and a 29.8. Now he’s down to 26.6 via not quite 43 million viewers. It’s hard to compare SOTUs among different presidents since there are more networks airing the speech every year and changing political circumstances dictate public interest to some extent; and of course, the longer a president’s in office, the lower the curiosity factor becomes and the lower his TV ratings along with it. Even Obama’s first SOTU, however, which was delivered at the height of Hopenchange fever, didn’t crack the top five ratings-wise for Clinton and Bush. Which is to say, as media proliferates and viewers have more alternatives to the SOTU, it seems destined to become less watched and even less influential over time. Good reason to consider doing away with it — at least as a televised speech — once and for all?