Trump Falsely Claims Most Viewed SOTU Ever, Actually Ranks 8th In Presidential Nielsens

Donald Trump reported his own “fake news” on Twitter this morning, claiming his State of the Union Address Tuesday night was the “highest number in history,” noting that 45.6 million people watched it. That’s a lie. Based on historical Nielsen estimates, Trump’s first SOTU ranks as the eighth-most-viewed SOTU.

It’s another in a long history of Trump distorting or misstating his audience estimates, including Nielsen ratings.

While it’s true that the ratings of Presidential State of the Union addresses have been trending downward in recent years, Trump’s first SOTU ranks only eighth in terms of viewers among the last 25 to be aired on the major broadcast and cable networks carrying it live, according to an analysis of Nielsen data.



Sequentially, Trump's first SOTU was the most viewed since President Barack Obama's 2010 speech.

It was the lowest-rated first SOTU by a president since George W. Bush's Feb. 27, 2001 address.

Trump’s SOTU rating is based on Nielsen’s analysis of the combined live coverage of 12 television networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Estrella, Telemundo, Univision, CNN, FOX Business, Fox News, MSNBC and PBS.

The number of networks Nielsen factors in its combined SOTU ratings has grown over time, from four in 1995: ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN.

24 comments about "Trump Falsely Claims Most Viewed SOTU Ever, Actually Ranks 8th In Presidential Nielsens".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 31, 2018 at 6:44 p.m.

    True but CBS polling showed 75 percent approval of his speech among viewers. 43 percent among Democrats. That story is widely ignored. 

  2. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, January 31, 2018 at 7:25 p.m.

    And what you "widely ignored" is that those polled also expressed the following political affiliations:  GOP 42%, Democrat 25%, Independent 33%.

    ... which throws some considerable shade on that "75%" approval number. 

  3. Tom Gray from WCMH, January 31, 2018 at 7:52 p.m.

    Trails recent presidential state of the unions??? The most recent one to top it was 8 years ago!  Any other program or special to be the highest rated in 8 years would be highlighted, thanks for always finding the negative

  4. Jack Klues from Retired, January 31, 2018 at 9:02 p.m.

    While not a big Trump supporter, I find MediaPost’s rating comparison “false news”,

    we all know the number of viewing options significantly increase each year. Most recent after 2018 is 2016 Obama which 2018 SOTU killed... and 2015 too.

    Most higher ratingspeeches are almost a decade old.

    joe, you know better

  5. Chuck Lantz from, network, January 31, 2018 at 9:28 p.m.

    Or, as I'm sure Trump would tweet it; ... "the highest rated State of the Union address in 2018!"

    C'mon, people. unless we know what the party affiliation percentages were for all the SOTU pollings, the 75% is murky at best.  For example, I watched simply to see if I could catch him accidently telling a "truth." 

  6. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., January 31, 2018 at 9:59 p.m.

    @Jack Klues, it's not MediaPost's ratings comparison. It is Nielsen's ranking of the past 25 SOTUs. How in the world is that "false news.?" When you were a media buyer, Nielsen ratings used to matter to you. Re. # of viewing sources increasing, don't really get your point. That's true of all programming, including Super Bowls or SOTUs, etc. By the way, the number of network that go into the combined SOTU rating has also increased, from four in 1993 to 12 in Trump's 2018 speech. So?

    @Tom Gray, yes they are the most recent 25 SOTUs. They only happen once a year. Trump's ranks 8th among total viewers. How is that finding a negative? Just reporting the ranking, just like we would do with any new POTUS, a Super Bowl, etc. Historical Nielsen rankings have always been the way these things are reported.

    The only reason this is even noteworthy, is that Trump makes a big deal out of his ratings, crowd sizes, etc., and routinely misrepresents them.

  7. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 31, 2018 at 10:27 p.m.

    Interesting spin when the Nielsen release said Trump SOTU was the most watched since 2010 and the #1 most social.  Figure don't lie, but....

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2018 at 7:04 a.m.

    Guys, like everything else on TV the SOTU address must compete with a growing number of viewing options and, looking at the Nielsen stats, it is pretty clear that the overall rating trend for such addresses is down, not up. Hence, while Trump no doubt will claim that he set a new record in the Nielsens---which would be false----he did draw better than most of the recent SOTU performances.

  9. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., February 1, 2018 at 7:05 a.m.

    @Douglas Ferguson: How is that "spin?" That's exactly what our ranker shows, that Trump's SOTU was the most viewed since Obama's 2010 speech. But it ranks 8th among the last 25. The analysis looks at TV ratings, because (to Jack Klues point) it is a stable way of looking at televised events over time. And because Trump historically boasts about the size if his TV ratings. You can look at the chart sequentially or historically or any other way you want. We put Trump in bold so it would be easy to read.

    "Most social" is not a universally accepted Nielsen metric and to Klues point, definitely is not one comparable over time.

  10. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., February 1, 2018 at 7:14 a.m.

    To  Ed Papazian's point, our two paragraph story points that out in the first part of the second graf: "While it’s true that the ratings of Presidential State of the Union addresses have been trending downward in recent years..."

    It's a fact of TV viewing life. The "M*A*S*H" finale is still the highest rated show ever. And the ad industry still looks at ratings trends in a historical context. 

    Or we could have gone with a story saying Trump had the highest rated SOTU since he was elected President. Would that have been in the "spin-free" zone?

  11. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., February 1, 2018 at 8:56 a.m.

    This story was updated based on Trump's tweet this morning and is no longer two paragraphs.

  12. Darrin Stephens from McMann & Tate, February 1, 2018 at 9:12 a.m.

    Trump could be counting digital viewing, which as we know leaves a lot of room for horseshit numbers.

    And to be fair, the networks use to add stream starts to average minute tv viewing all the time. They mostly stopped doing it when the buying community flagged them for it.

  13. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2018 at 9:24 a.m.

    Another more likely possibility is that Trump's minions got an estimate by the network of the "total audience" of his telecast---also from Nielsen----namely those who watched any portion of the address for at least five minutes. It is not unusual for the networks to cite numbers such as these when reporting on the "Super Bowl" and other extended special events as they are, invariably much higher than the average minute figures.

  14. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc. replied, February 1, 2018 at 9:31 a.m.

    @"Darrin Stephens:" No, the 45.6 million viewers number he cites is explicitly Nielsen's combined TV viewing estimate. It ranks 8th among the 25 most recent SOTUs.

  15. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2018 at 9:37 a.m.

    If that is the case, Darrin, then Trump is actually understating the total reach of his address which would probably by close to 60 million on a "total audience" basis. I wouldn't normally credit him with such modesty---assuming that he and/or his minions know antyhing about TV ratings and audience projections in the first place.

  16. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2018 at 10:14 a.m.

    By the way, that was my error about the reported ratings----they are average minute "combined" all channel ratings. Sorry.

  17. PJ Lehrer from NYU, February 1, 2018 at 10:30 a.m.

    Or he could just be saying what he wants people to believe.  Sadly it will probably work.  More here...

  18. Tim Brooks from consultant, February 1, 2018 at 11:33 a.m.

    Joe, your raging hatred of the current POTUS comes through in just about everything you write these days. It was a strong performance (the highest in 8 years?) in a incredibly competitive environment, but obviously not the "highest ever" in traditional Nielsen homes. The guy is given to hype, we know that. But leading your "news" story with terms like "falsely," "fake", and "lie" just makes you one of the partisan screamers. Makes me wonder if it's really the Joe Mandese I used to know.

  19. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., February 1, 2018 at 1:06 p.m.

    @Tim Brooks: Funny that a credible numbers guy like you would read all that between the lines of a straight-forward Nielsen ranker, but I used the term "Fake News," because it's the one Donald Trump uses to describe things he doens't agree with. In this case, it's the truth. He said his SOTU address had the most viewers in history. It's simply not true. It ranks eight among the last 25. Imagine you had made a claim like that at USA Network? If the President of the United States can lie so blatantly about something that is so known and proveable as Nielsen ratings, imagine what else he's misstating.

  20. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2018 at 3:47 p.m.

    PJ, you are right, telling a fib about being the most viewed SOTU ever does work. I just finished a conversation with a close relative---an ardent Republican---who mouthed the same line and thinks he saw that documented by his local paper. Propaganda has always worked in this manner.

  21. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, February 1, 2018 at 4:11 p.m.

    Apparently, this article is not true after all Douglas, since our esteemed president sent a Tweet today that set the record straight.  According to him - and he must be believed - his SOTU speech had the most viewers in history.  

  22. John Grono from GAP Research, February 2, 2018 at 1:39 a.m.

    Given that most of the comparisons focus on 2018 (Trump) and 2010 (Obama), many seem to have forgotten that the US population grew by 5.6% in that time.   That is, to be "bigger" in 2018 you would need to be 5.6% more (i.e. 50.7m).

    Have a look at the Rating (unfortunately HH Rating I believe) as it is the measure that is best used when looking at longitudinal comparisons, and Trump's ranking is actual equal 15th (albeit based on HH and not Ppl).

    From afar I am stunned at the vitriol aimed at someone reporting 'the truth' (as determined by the Nielsen Ratings).

    It’s almost as though in 1969 Simon & Garfunkel were prescient when they sung:

    "I have squandered my resistance
    For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
    All lies and jests
    Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest"

    ... and then the song ironically finishes with...

    “Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
    Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie”

  23. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, February 2, 2018 at 2:14 a.m.

    Douglas:  I just read that one reason the "75% approval" numbers were "widely ignored" could be because it was the lowest approval number recorded for a SOTU address. 

  24. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., February 2, 2018 at 7:50 a.m.

    @John Grono: Excellent point. The rating would be a more fair comparison, but since Trump's false claim was based on total viewers, we analyzed it that way. It ranks eighth among past 25 in terms of total viewers. As others have noted, there are no pure apples to apples comparisons because of changes in the TV viewing environment, but any way you look at it, Trump blatantly lied about a simple, provable fact. It was not the most viewed SOTU in history, no matter how you look at it.

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