An early batch of numbers for President Donald Trump's State of the Union ratings are in. According to Variety, President Trump's address before Congress on Tuesday night, Jan. 30, drew a combined 19.8 million viewers across the four major network broadcasts (CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC). Nielsen, the company that tracks television viewership nationally, has not yet drawn an estimate for the number of viewers who watched the State of the Union address on one of the three major cable news networks (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC).
Overall, the four major State of the Union broadcasts combined for a 14.8 rating, a decrease from a similar speech President Trump delivered last year — his first Joint Address before Congress.
A president's first Joint Address isn't technically a State of the Union, but it is delivered at the same location — the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives — and with the same objective: a speech to both houses of Congress.
Last year, President Trump's Joint Address drew a 16 rating from the combined broadcasts of the big four network television airings. In total, when factoring in cable news coverage, the president drew 47.7 million viewers for his 2017 Joint Address, according to Variety.
With a network television rating for the 2018 State of the Union down from the 2017 Joint Address, the former appears on tracks to draw in a lower number of total viewers as well. That also means President Trump's first State of the Union address is likely to fall below former President Barack Obama's first State of the Union, which drew about 48 million viewers in 2010, according to Nielsen's ratings.
And before you try to start comparing Obama's to Trump's ratings, remember that how Americans watch live events has changed vastly over the past eight years. Twitter, for instance, was only 3 years old when Obama did his first State of the Union, let alone streaming live events. It's going to take more time and data collection to figure out more realistic numbers of how many people watched Trump's first State of the Union compared to how many watched Obama's first.
Like President Trump, former President Obama's first State of the Union address saw a dip in viewership compared to the 2009 Joint Address, which drew 52.4 million viewers, according to Variety.
According to Nielsen ratings for all past State of the Union speeches and Joint Address broadcasts, there is a general trend of decreasing viewership for each subsequent speech a president delivers before the whole of Congress.
The difference between the number of viewers who tuned in to watch former President Obama's first Joint Address and his last State of the Union speech (which was viewed by about 31.3 million people) was about 20 million.
There was a decrease between former President George W. Bush's first Joint Address viewership (about 39.8 million people) and his last State of the Union speech's (about 37.5 million) as well, albeit with a more modest difference of about 2 million people.
Former President Bill Clinton saw the most dramatic decrease in viewership. Clinton's first Joint Address drew nearly 67 million viewers, according to Nielsen. His last State of the Union, meanwhile, drew about 31.5 million viewers, marking a decrease of more than 35 million viewers compared to Clinton's 1993 speech.
As The Hollywood Reporter points out, the general trend for State of the Union speeches drawing less viewership over time is broken by major events such as wars.
In 2002, months after the New York City was struck by a terror attack that destroyed the Twin Towers, former President Bush's State of the Union address drew nearly 12 million more viewers than his previous Joint Address.
In 2003, as the United States contemplated engaging in war in Iraq, former President Bush's State of the Union saw another spike in viewership, drawing more than 62 million viewers for an increase of about 9 million people.
Another event that is proven to spike viewership? Scandal. More than 53 million people tuned into the Bill Clinton's 1998 State of the Union speech, which was delivered just days after he denied having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.