Does the State of the Union Address Really Matter?

Keli Goff

Author, commentator & Contributing Editor,


There are a lot of things we must do in life, not because they are really necessary or really make a difference, but because they are tradition and we are expected to, plain and simple.

Increasingly, watching — or at least pretending you watched — the State of the Union Address appears to fall in this category.

According to a new poll out from Rasmussen, 44 percent of likely voters think the State of the Union Address is important in setting the nation’s political agenda for the upcoming year, but more likely voters — 47 percent to be exact — believe the speech is just for show. Yet that same survey also shows that 79 percent say they are at least somewhat likely to watch or follow news reports about this year’s address with 53 percent claiming they are VERY likely to do so.

So which is it? Is the State of the Union Address truly important or is it — as a plurality of survey respondents believe — “just for show?”

Well, in a recent column for Politico, veteran DC reporter Roger Simon noted that very rarely does anyone remember a single sentence, reference, phrase or idea from the State of the Union Address one month after it takes place, let alone a year or years later. The lone exception may be George W. Bush’s reference to a so-called “axis of evil.”

To Simon’s point, in recent years it’s arguable that the most memorable moments from the State of the Union have not come from the speech or the president. During the president’s first address to the Joint Session of Congress (which is what the president’s first post Inaugural State of the Union Address is officially called) Republican Congressman Joe Wilson infamously stole the show by shouting, “You lie,” while First Lady Michelle Obama famously courted admiration and controversy by displaying her envy-inducing arms. (Click here to view more First Lady fashion at previous State of the Unions.) I’m sure most of you reading this remember Wilson’s outburst, but do you remember anything the president said, anything at all?

If you don’t, you’re not alone. You’re also not alone if you don’t really care all that much.

According to a Gallup poll, the State of the Union address rarely has any impact on what Americans think of the president, barely moving presidential poll numbers an inch. The one exception is former president Bill Clinton who saw a three-point increase in his favorability following the State of the Union address, which is still statistically negligible.

But there is perhaps no better testament to how seriously Americans do, or rather do not, take the State of the Union Address than the fact that a Google search of “State of the Union drinking games” yields more than a quarter of a million results. Some highlights from this year’s game? Apparently every time the president says “bipartisanship” we are supposed to drink two shots of beer, and if Speaker Boehner begins to cry we are supposed to down one shot of bourbon.

So what could possibly make the State of the Union Address more memorable, more impactful, something that Americans actually believe makes a difference in their lives and in the political process?

For starters, what if presidents did away with all of the pomp and circumstance, just looked into the camera and told the truth, for a change which is this:

I could spend the next hour of your time, trying to convince you that I have all of the answers, but the truth is I don’t. But I’m doing the best that I can. Here are the ten things I’m focused on working on at the moment. If you have any further questions or suggestions, shoot me an e-mail and I will try to respond to as many as possible. Because after all, I work for you.

But I guess that wouldn’t make for a very interesting drinking game.

This post originally appeared on for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.



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