How many people tune into a State of the Union address follows a certain pattern. Viewers seem more interested in first-year presidents and are more likely to tune in following a scandal or contentious issue. Over time, interest in one president’s SOTU addresses is usually wanes.
This is where president Trump was bucking the trend at first. More TV viewers tuned into 2019's State of the Union Address than the year before. 46.8 million watched the president give the address right after a prolonged government shutdown, up from 45.6 million in 2018, according to numbers by Nielsen. In 2020, Trump lost viewers - only 37.2 million turned on the TV for the broadcast. More Americans might have tuned in if they would have known what a standoff between Republicans and Democrats this year's debate would turn into.
Trump has relied heavily on television to get his message out and is popular especially on one network, Fox News, which also bolstered his ratings in the past. Yet, there is a general downward trend in these ratings as TV is becoming less important as a medium. For perspective: President Barack Obama’s first SOTU was viewed by 52.4 million people in 2009, President Bill Clinton’s by 66.9 million in 1993. Only 47.7 million watched Trump’s first address, officially called the “Address to the Joint Session of Congress” for first-year presidents, in 2017.