President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address drew 45.6 million television viewers -- ratings that, contrary to a tweet from the president, were lower than the most-watched speeches from the past three presidents.
The number, reported by Nielsen, estimates the total number of viewers who tuned in on television. It doesn’t account for viewers who live streamed the address, an increasingly common way of watching.
Still, the president chose to use this number -- the number of viewers who went for the traditional television experience -- to tout his numbers, tweeting that the ratings were “the highest number in history.”
Thank you for all of the nice compliments and reviews on the State of the Union speech. 45.6 million people watched, the highest number in history. @FoxNews beat every other Network, for the first time ever, with 11.7 million people tuning in. Delivered from the heart!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 1, 2018
But the data shows otherwise.
President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address, delivered in 2010, brought in 2.4 million more television viewers. President George W. Bush drew 6.1 million more viewers for his speech in 2002, and President Bill Clinton pulled in 200,000 more viewers for his first address in 1994.
When asked about the accuracy of the tweet, a White House official said Trump was referring to the cable news ratings. The president mentioned Fox News, which drew the largest audience this year with 11.7 million viewers.
However, the number he tweeted is not the cable ratings. It's the number of people who watched the address across 12 networks, both cable and broadcast, including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Estrella, Telemundo, Univision, CNN, FOX Business, FOX News, MSNBC and PBS.
Though it varies, the total number of viewers tends to decline for each State of the Union address throughout a presidency. During Obama’s presidency, television viewership ranged from 52.3 million for his first joint address to Congress, to 31.3 million for his last State of the Union address.
Already, Trump’s ratings figures have varied. The State of the Union was his second major speech to Congress since taking office and the first, an address to the joint session of Congress, racked up about 2.1 million more viewers.
The president's tweet isn't the first time the administration's numbers have come into question. The day after Trump's inauguration, his then-press secretary Sean Spicer, despite pictures showing crowds at Obama's inauguration were larger, said: "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period."