Why the State of the Union doesn’t have a big political impact

First, presidents usually take the State of the Union as an opportunity to make policy proposals and urge Congress to pass them — but most of the time, they are unsuccessful. Political scientists Donna Hoffman and Alison Howard track the number of policy requests that presidents make in their State of the Union addresses,1 and they found that the president’s annual speech to Congress featured an average of 33 policy proposals from 1965 to 2019.2

But only 25 percent of those proposals were fully enacted within the following year (another 14 percent, however, were partially enacted). The exact share has varied a lot from year to year: For example, the wildly productive 89th Congress passed two-thirds of the 36 agenda items in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 address — but a grand total of zero of the 19 proposals from President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 State of the Union fully became law. As for Trump, only 16 percent of his speeches’ policy rollouts so far have been fully enacted.

Second, State of the Union addresses usually have little impact on public opinion of the president.