State of the Union ratings a barometer for November

The ratings for Obama’s final SOTU address were the worst on record; Trump is mad, and so is America, and no one wants to listen to more SOTUS happy-talk.

Obama on his way out / White House photo, used under U.S. Government Work license
Obama on his way out / White House photo, used under U.S. Government Work license

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 19, 2016 — A former member of Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board boldly predicted the Republicans would take 45 to 47 states in the upcoming November presidential election. Art Laffer may find himself wiping egg off his face, as Dick Morris did when he made a similar prognostication in 2012, but landslide Republican victories in the past two off-year elections could be an indication that Laffer is right.

Washington insiders have made a career of misreading the mood of the American public. The Republicans are still clueless, despite having mandates handed to them in 2010 and 2014.

President Obama, on the other hand, may understand what is happening, but he really doesn’t care. He’s already made it clear that he will do whatever he pleases anyway.

National polls bombard us nightly, much like Obama’s drones in the Middle East, and the assault will only escalate until election day. But there is a subtle clue that few noticed that could tell us exactly what is in store come November.

What is it? The ratings for the president’s State of the Union speech.

For the press, the SOTU is the media equivalent of the Super Bowl. It is the most eagerly awaited oration of the year. On the other hand, how interested the American people are with the speech depends on the political climate and the popularity of the occupant of the Oval Office.

If the American people are unhappy, they are not going to watch a “happy talk” message that only serves to increase their anger. And in 2016, Obama’s message reached fewer people than ever before in his presidency, with the fewest viewers since 2000.

The pinnacle of Obama’s appeal was 2009, when he delivered his first State of the Union. More than 52 million people tuned in. Since then, viewership of the annual message has steadily declined. In 2016, the Nielsen numbers came in at 31.3 million viewers. That’s a reduction of nearly 20 million people, giving the speech the lowest ratings of any SOTUS since Nielsen began keeping track in 1993.

Only 10 percent of the population watched; 90 percent of the country had better things to do than listen to Obama’s tired rhetoric.

Following Obama’s address, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivered the Republican response. This was largely an apology for her party’s failures to challenge the president and a semi-veiled attack on Donald Trump. In her speech, Haley reprimanded Trump for being “angry.”

Trump responded during the Republican debate in North Charleston, S.C., admitting that he was, indeed, angry and was not in the least bit apologetic.

The “anger” reply failed to receive much discussion compared to some of the more colorful confrontations between the candidates, but Trump is right when he says that he, along with millions of other Americans, is “mad as hell.”

Not only did two mid-term elections fail to produce the results promised by the misguided and impotent Republican party, the Republicans never even mounted a challenge.

Combine frustration with anger and it is not difficult to see why the Trump phenomenon continues to grow and why the Obama State of the Union speech reached so few people.

The American people went to the polls twice and told Washington precisely what they wanted. Washington didn’t listen. Donald Trump, for all his brash, egotistical mannerisms is at least paying attention.

As Rush Limbaugh says, Trump may call out opponents, or anyone else who treats him with negative commentary, but he never talks down to his audience. Never.

Trump is a billionaire, but to his followers he is one of them. Like them, he has had it with Washington’s incompetence and elitism.

In one way, Trump is like Obama. He is telling the president and the Republicans exactly what they are doing wrong, just as Obama telegraphs every foreign policy move he makes to the enemy. Yet the insiders still refuse to listen because they are above it all and “Father Barack Knows Best.”

Check those ratings. Art Laffer may be right. The country is seething, and the State of the Union was just another indicator of how angry America really is.


Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News. Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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