Got Poor Presidential Ratings? Go on TV!
The same laws that govern TV dramas, apparently, also apply to the president: When it comes to Nielsen ratings for the State of the Union, viewers prefer the smell of blood.
With 45.5 million people tuning in, Tuesday's address attracted the third-highest viewership since Bush took office, trailing only behind his 2003 call to arms in Iraq (62.1 million) and his 2002 address to a scarred nation (51.8 million). At the same time, he took the podium this year with the lowest approval rating of his tenure in Washington.
If anything, the natural law here seems to run in reverse: Viewers are far more interested in watching an embattled president fighting for his legacy than a confident leader in whom they trust. Nielsen data going back to 1997 suggest that Bill Clinton, who had between a 58 and 66 percent approval rating at the time of his last four addresses, averaged about 3.8 million fewer viewers each speech.
In the past three years, Bush's approval rating has steadily declined while his viewers have steadily risen. With the president's party in the minority for the first time in his presidency and a new face perched to his left (viewers' right) as speaker of the House, the usual dramatic standbysconflict and enmityare more intact than they've ever been before. It can't top tragedy or war, but as these things go, it's not so bad a story.