The Slatest

Trump Claims His State of the Union Was Most Watched in History but Obama, Bush, and Clinton all Had Higher Ratings

President Donald Trump makes his way to board Marine One before departing from the South Lawn of the White House on February 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump is heading to West Virginia to address the 2018 House and Senate Republican Member Conference.
President Donald Trump makes his way to board Marine One before departing from the South Lawn of the White House on February 1, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump returned to Twitter Thursday morning, and it was to boast about something that didn’t happen. The commander in chief claimed that the ratings for his first State of the Union broke records. But they didn’t. Not even close. “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,” Trump wrote.

Trump did accurately report the number that was announced by ratings company Nielsen on Wednesday. But any quick perusal of the historical stats will quickly show that you don’t have to go far back in history to see that prior presidents enjoyed higher ratings. Nielsen, which counts Americans who watched at home through their televisions, has consistent records going back to 1994 and since then four State of the Union addresses had higher ratings than Trump’s.

President George W. Bush takes the cake with the 62 million who watched in 2003 while President Obama’s first State of the Union address in 2010 had an audience of 48 million. President Clinton, meanwhile, held an audience of 45.8 million for his first State of the Union in 1994. Although some tried to claim Trump had higher ratings when you count people who livestreamed the address through the internet, the number he used in the tweet would not back up that claim. Plus, there is no reliable way to measure that.

The president’s claim immediately brought to mind the controversy regarding the crowd size of his inauguration. The ensuing kerfuffle over the numbers gave birth to the now-infamous phrase “alternative facts.”

In addition to touting his ratings, Trump’s tweet also doubled as an advertisement for his favorite news network, Fox News. He said Fox “beat every other Network, for the first time ever, with 11.7 million people tuning in.” But even his favorite news network didn’t back him up as it published a tweet that contradicted the president’s record-breaking claims.