February 2, 2012

State of the Union Coverage Shrinks

Obama SOTU Bush SOTU
2007 12.6
2008 6.3
2009 10.5
2010 18.9
2011 16.7
2012 8.9

47% – Drop in media coverage of Obama’s 2012 SOTU compared to 2011

President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union (SOTU) address accounted for 8.9% of the newshole from January 23-29—making it the second biggest story of the week, well behind the presidential race (32.7%). That level of attention represents a significant drop-off from his previous SOTUs, which, on average, accounted for 15.4% of the weekly newshole.

A look back at State of the Union speeches since PEJ began the News Coverage Index in January 2007 reveals that two of those speeches generated less media attention than the others. And both came during a presidential election year.

The week of January 22-28, 2008—when George Bush delivered his last state of the Union Address—the speech accounted for only 6.3% of the newshole while the 2008 election accounted for a full 50%. As was the case with Obama last week, the SOTU was overshadowed by coverage of the campaign to see who will deliver the next one.

The most covered SOTU in recent years was Obama’s speech in 2010, which accounted for 18.9% and registered as the top story that week. The number two story was the economy (17.6%), with the media speculating about whether Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be re-appointed.

In 2011, Obama’s speech was the No. 2 story at 16.7%, modestly trailing coverage of Mideast turmoil (20.1%) that was fueled by intensifying Egyptian protests against the government of Hosni Mubarak.

President Bush’s 2007 address came next at 12.6% of the coverage, but it was overshadowed by attention to the Iraq war (23.5%), which was primarily focused on the Iraq policy debate unfolding in Washington.

Obama’s 2009 prime-time speech (which was not technically a State of the Union speech but had the same import) accounted for 10.5% of the newshole the week of February 23-March 1, 2009.  It generated far less coverage that week than the recession-wracked economy, at 37.7%.

But even so, coverage of that 2009 address exceeded the levels in 2008 and 2012 when the media were occupied with the contest to find the next occupant of the White House.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ