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Biden’s First Speech To Congress Draws Under 27 Million Viewers — Here’s How It Compares To Other Presidential Addresses

Topline

Around 27 million Americans watched President Joe Biden’s first speech to Congress on television Wednesday, drawing a smaller audience than most other comparable presidential addresses in recent history, including former President Donald Trump’s final State of the Union.

Key Facts

Biden’s speech drew about 26.9 million viewers according to Nielsen, which measured the event’s audience on 16 major cable and broadcast networks, including some — but not all — viewers who streamed the speech online.

By comparison, 37.2 million people watched Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech across all cable and broadcast networks, and Trump’s 2018 and 2019 addresses each topped 45 million viewers.

Biden’s address Wednesday — which was not officially billed as a State of the Union address — also earned fewer viewers than Trump’s first speech to Congress in 2017 (47.7 million) and former President Barack Obama’s first congressional address in 2009 (52.4 million).

Wednesday’s audience was the smallest in decades: Obama’s State of the Union addresses ranged from 31.3 million viewers in 2016 to 48 million in 2010, former President George W. Bush’s television audience oscillated between 37.5 million in 2008 and 62.1 million in 2003, and former President Bill Clinton’s ratings hit a low of 31.5 million in 2000.

Tangent

ABC was the most watched network Wednesday night, earning 4 million viewers, according to Nielsen data released by CNN. MSNBC fell closely behind with 3.9 million viewers, followed by NBC (3.5 million), CBS (3.4 million), CNN (3.2 million), Fox News (2.9 million) and Fox’s broadcast network (1.6 million). These ratings could reflect the networks’ ideological bent: During Trump’s address last year, right-leaning Fox News was the most watched network, and left-leaning MSNBC ranked last.

Big Number

85%. That’s the percentage of viewers who approved of Biden’s speech, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll. But as with most presidential addresses, Americans who chose to watch an hourlong speech by Biden are more likely than average to support him, with just 18% of YouGov respondents identifying themselves as Republicans.

Key Background

Most presidents speak to a joint session of Congress within their first few months in office, an event that often looks and sounds like a State of the Union address even if it doesn’t technically carry the name. Biden’s speech was similar: He used the event to review his first 100 days in office and lay out his legislative priorities, with a focus on economic policy.

Further Reading

Joe Biden’s Address To Congress Snares 11.6M Viewers In Early Results; Down From Trump As ABC Tops Broadcasters (Deadline)