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Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek May 3, 2021

About 26.9 million people watched Biden’s first address to Congress, not 11.6 million

If Your Time is short

• About 26.9 million people tuned in to watch President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress

• Former President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress reached a larger audience of about 47.7 million people.

• Other factors might have played a role in the reduced viewership, including a recent overall decrease in the number of people watching live TV.

Although President Joe Biden’s first speech to Congress wasn’t officially called a State of the Union address, that hasn’t stopped social media users from comparing Biden’s viewership to viewership of former President Donald Trump’s State of the Union addresses.

One image posted on Facebook claims that Trump’s State of the Union speeches were viewed by three to four times the number of people who watched Biden’s April 28 address to a joint session of Congress.

The image reads:

"TV Ratings for Presidential Addresses:

President Trump 2017 — 48,000,000

President Trump 2018 — 46,000,000

President Trump 2019 — 46,800,000

President Trump 2020 — 37,200,000

Biden 2021 — 11,600,000"

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Are the numbers correct? Yes and no. 

PolitiFact looked at viewership numbers compiled by the Nielsen Company, which tracks television viewership data. 

Based on Nielsen’s data, the post is correct about the number of viewers who tuned in to watch Trump address the joint sessions of Congress. Nielsen reported the following numbers for "combined number of viewers": 

When compared to the numbers provided in the post, there isn’t much deviation. 

The post rounded the Trump figures up to nearest hundred-thousand or million. But, all in all, the numbers accurately reflect viewership of Trump’s addresses.

The viewership number offered for Biden’s first address to Congress was incorrect, however.

Nielsen reported that 26.9 million people watched Biden’s speech on April 28. While that was low compared with Trump and other predecessors, it is more than double the post’s claim of 11.6 million viewers.

What affects presidential address viewership?

So far, in 2021, television viewership is down, according to Nielsen’s data. Both the Associated Press and CNN attributed a portion of Biden’s lower ratings to people watching less live TV in favor of watching more on-demand programming.

"Presidents who are more compelling naturally attract more attention than those who are seen as more staid," said Alison Dagnes, a political science professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania whose areas of expertise include American political media and public opinion. 

When asked about Biden's lower viewership numbers, she said, "Say what you will about Donald Trump: but he wasn’t boring."

In addition, Dagnes said she believed the pandemic had an impact on the size of Biden's TV audience because the public is "exhausted." 

"The Trump years were chaotic and overwhelming, even if one was a Trump supporter, and then the pandemic forced everyone to be hyper-vigilant," she said. "One primary appeal of Joe Biden thus far, according to polling, is that he is governing quietly. The nation is tired. I wasn’t surprised that the TV ratings were as low as they were."

Our rating

An image posted on Facebook claimed that Biden’s first address to Congress had only 11.6 million viewers, while Trump’s presidential addresses were watched by three to four times that number of people.

The post provided accurate viewership numbers for Trump’s presidential addresses overall. But the post was incorrect about the number of people who watched Biden’s address. In reality, 26.9 million people tuned in to watch — more than double the post’s claim. 

We rate this claim Half True.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Sept. 21, 2020

WhiteHouse.gov, "Remarks by President Biden in Address to a Joint Session of Congress," April 29, 2021

Nielsen, "Over 37 Million Viewers Watch 2020 State Of The Union Address," Feb. 5, 2020

Nielsen, "Nearly 47 Million Viewers Watch President Trump’s State Of The Union Address," Feb. 6, 2019

Nielsen, "Nearly 46 Million Viewers Watch President Trump’s State Of The Union Address," Jan. 31, 2018

Nielsen, "Nearly 48 Million Americans Watch Pres. Donald Trump’s First Address To Congress," March 1, 2017

Nielsen, "Media Advisory: Nearly 27 Million Viewers Watch Pres. Joe Biden’s First Address To Congress," April 29, 2021

Nielsen, "Corporate Profile," accessed May 2, 2021

USA Today, "Fact check: Biden's speech had an estimated 26.9 million viewers," April 30, 2021

Forbes, "Biden’s First Speech To Congress Draws Under 27 Million Viewers — Here’s How It Compares To Other Presidential Addresses," April 29, 2021

Associated Press, "Biden reaches 26.9 million viewers for talk to Congress," April 29, 2021

Email exchange with Alison Dagnes, a political science professor at Shippensburg University, May 3, 2021

AFP Fact Check, "Biden speech audience lower than Trump’s, but not 11.6 million," April 30, 2021

CNN, "Biden's first address to Congress wasn't immune to TV ratings erosion," April 29, 2021

Forbes, "As Their Ratings Drop, TV Networks Fault Nielsen. Media Researchers Weigh In," April 20, 2021

MarketWatch, "Television networks are complaining that Nielsen isn’t accurately measuring viewers as stats show a decline," April 13, 2021

PolitiFact, "Trump's State of the Union ratings are not the highest in history," Feb. 1, 2018

NPR, "Trump Claims His SOTU Had The Highest Ratings In History. It Didn't," Feb. 1, 2018

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More by Madison Czopek

About 26.9 million people watched Biden’s first address to Congress, not 11.6 million

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