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How Long Is The State Of The Union? Well, It’s Not Short


Although we've heard President Donald Trump speak plenty throughout his first official year in office, but his most highly anticipated speaking engagement as the leader of the United States is yet to come. On Tuesday, Jan. 30, Trump will deliver his first official State of the Union address. Being that this is Trump's first address, there is a lot of unpredictability as to how he will handle it. One of those questions is how much time he'll take speaking at the podium. So how long is the State of the Union address usually?

There isn't an official answer to this question, really. The length of a State of the Union speech is up to the president and his team of speechwriters, at the end of the day. So we don't exactly know how many minutes we can expect Trump to address Congress and his audience watching on TV. But we do have some clues from his previous presidential speeches that can enable us to make an educated guess.

The first time that Trump addressed a joint session of Congress was on Feb. 28, 2017, less than two months into his first year as president. That speech was not a State of the Union address, but it set the tone as to what Congress could expect from his presidency. That speech lasted for just about an hour, so his State of the Union will likely be similar in length.

The New York Times on YouTube

On the other hand, another speech that might indicate how long we can expect Trump's address to last is the recent speech he made at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 26. The speech (which was followed by a less formal Q&A session with WEF founder Klaus Schwab) lauded his administration's "America First" economic policies and the country's current overall economic success. That speech came just three days before his pivotal first State of the Union address, and clocked in at just about 15 minutes in length. If we're quantifying that speech in terms of word count, Trump's Davos address totaled 1,884 words. If Trump follows suit with what we saw at Davos, it would the the shortest State of the Union address in modern U.S. presidential history.

However, that length would be pretty unusual, by historical standards. The shortest spoken address goes to Richard Nixon, who addressed Congress for just about 29 minutes in 1972, according to the American Presidency Project. On the other end of the spectrum, the longest spoken address was made by Bill Clinton, who spent just under an hour and a half (or 7,452 words) addressing the joint session in 2000.

The New York Times on YouTube

Trump's most recent predecessor, Barack Obama, was pretty well known for giving long State of the Union addresses, and his longest came in 2014 which lasted for about an hour and five minutes. In fact, Obama's total average State of the Union spoken length is the second-longest of all the modern presidents at approximately an hour and three minutes (he falls behind the loquacious Bill Clinton, who averaged nearly an hour and 15 minutes). However, a little known fact about the State of the Union is that it doesn't necessarily have to be given in person, although that's become the tradition in recent history. The last time the address was physically distributed to members of Congress was by Jimmy Carter, when he released his massive 33,667 word departing State of the Union address in 1981. It's safe to say that this right is reserved by the president when an address is simply too long to deliver orally.

So how long this address will last under Trump's administration could be something of a toss up. But given the significance of the State of the Union (especially with a Congress and nation as divided as our current one is) we should expect Trump to speak for just about an hour or so. Trump has a chance with this address to act truly presidential and attempt to relieve bipartisan tension and unite the country. And you can bet for sure that the entire country — and the world — will be watching in anticipation.