State of the Union address: Do Americans even watch it?
The State of the Union was once delivered only to Congress, then to conscientious US citizens via TV and radio. Now it is fragmented, repackaged, and delivered to an incalculable global audience.
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This worldwide audience also includes an avalanche of media, says Iowa State University political scientist Steffen Schmidt, noting that members of the press from every conceivable outlet “will boil down and pass on his message downstream in print, on the Internet, TV, radio, blogs, Tweets," he says via e-mail. “So it’s very important for him to connect with that audience.”Skip to next paragraph
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The people who actually watch the whole speech will be minimal relative to how the speech is reported by this media onslaught, agrees Newman.
“Exactly which parts of his speech are repeated in media clips become very important parts of his strategic objectives, something his marketing people will not know until after the speech is given,” he says.
“In a democracy, it becomes very difficult to ensure which words/messages are picked up by the people. This makes the communication strategy for the president a much more difficult marketing challenge than it would be for a corporation like Apple advertising its newest hi-tech consumer device,” Newman adds.
Declining interest in politics
Beyond the circles of those with a horse in the race, the primary audience among the general population will be those who agree with the president, says Fordham University presidential scholar Jeffrey Cohen, author of "The Presidency in the Era of 24-Hour News." The number who tune in to be good, well-informed citizens is declining, he notes, primarily because “very few people in the general population give a hoot about politics.”
“Very few college kids tune in to see prime time presidential addresses, regardless of who is in the White House,” he writes in an e-mail. Due to the tradition and pomp surrounding it, he adds, the State of the Union draws an audience that goes beyond political junkies, “but not that much.”
“The State of the Union address benefits from being on all four major broadcast channels, plus the cable news outlets, etc. Thus, a lot of people stumble into watching as they just turn on the television while settling into their comfy chair for the evening,” says Mr. McCall.
The shootings in Tucson have galvanized interest in national politics to a certain degree, adds Mr. Cohen. And of course, he says, there will always be people who will tune in just on the off chance that an unexpected gaffe or interruption turns the evening into good-old-fashioned entertainment.