In his final and briefest State of the Union address, President Barack Obama highlighted his legacy and signaled where the nation needs to go for continued progress.
For less than one hour, Obama stood before Congress and the country and delivered a prepared speech that was less than 5,500 words, much shorter than his average of nearly 7,000 words over the years. The NewsHour analyzed his final speech and the conversation his address has generated over the years.
He focused on how the U.S. recovered after the Great Recession but pointed out how the work isn’t done yet. He also called on America to innovate and to improve political dialogue.
By comparison, in 2010 President Obama devoted nearly half of his first State of the Union address to mending the economy. He laid out the need for healthcare reform and called on Americans to unite around common values.
Leading up to his final address, the applause breaks aren’t as bountiful as they used to be for President Obama. In his first official address, Obama received 115 rounds of applause. Last year, it was down to 85. And this year, he received the least — 67 rounds of applause.
And according to Gallup polls, Obama’s job approval rating nationwide has hovered around 50 percent at the time of the State of the Union every year. Hours before the speech, polls showed the 45 percent of the country approved of Obama’s work as president.
While President Obama addressed these issues before Congress, social media users lit up their networks with conversation about what he had to say. And during the week leading up to the speech, 15 million Facebook users liked, posted, commented and shared messages about the State of the Union 54 million times, Facebook says. And those interactions most often focused on guns, Islam and Muslims, the Islamic State, crime and criminal justice and terrorism.
On Twitter, Obama’s annual speech has inspired millions of tweets over the last seven years. Conversation has grown from 313,000 tweets in 2010 to 2.4 million tweets last year. This year, more than 1.5 million tweets mentioned #SOTU in Obama’s final address by the time he wrapped up.
Google developed an index that shows where people searched the State of the Union the most. The most intense interest in Obama’s last address was concentrated within the Beltway. Washington, D.C., dominates the list, followed by Maryland, Vermont, Virginia and Massachusetts. When people wanted to find out more about policy issues on the search engine, the most popular terms included taxes, education, health care, immigration and gun control.
But did the public listen?
Nielsen ratings show that audience viewership of the State of the Union address has decreased every year since Obama entered office. Last year, nearly 32 million people tuned in. That’s a 34-percent drop from 48 million people who watched in 2010.
Megan Crigger, Alexandra Sarabia and Jacob Kerr contributed to this report.