On Tuesday, President Barack Obama will address Congress in the annual State of the Union address.

Under the United States Constitution, presidents are required to “give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” But nowhere in the constitution does it say that the report must be delivered in the form of a speech.

Before President Woodrow Wilson delivered the first State of the Union speech to Congress in 1913, presidents historically provided their reports to Congress in written form.


Jordan Ragusa, Political Science Professor

Jordan Ragusa, Political Science Professor

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson became the first president to deliver a televised State of the Union Address.  Since then, the major television networks have set aside time in their programming schedules each January for the live broadcast.

But in recent years, that television viewing audience has been become increasingly smaller.

In 2009, more than 52 million Americans watched the televised speech.  Last year, viewership dropped to just over 33 –– and that was with a total of 14 networks carried the address live.

Despite the ratings slump, College of Charleston political science professor Jordan Ragusa says the State of Union is still “must-see” TV for many people.

“While viewership of the State of the Union address has declined in recent years, I still think it still has considerable news value.  For starters, between 20 and 30 million households will watch the President’s address, which is far more than any news program (in fact, it’s probably greater than the ten most popular news programs combined).  And second, while viewership has declined in recent years, I’m willing to bet the millions more will hear about the speech through non-traditional outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.”

Ragusa says that even though television networks have trimmed coverage of other political events such as the presidential nominating conventions, the networks recognize that the State of the Union address is a ratings winner.

“The simple point is this: With the exception of the NFL, the networks just don’t have programming that draws more viewers than major presidential speeches.  Like it or not, televised State of the Union addresses are here to stay.”

Ragusa will be tweeting his thoughts during the State of the Union address.  You can follow him at https://twitter.com/rule22blog

College of Charleston Political Science Professor Gibbs Knotts will also be tweeting the State of the Union address.  He is at https://twitter.com/GibbsKnotts