Politics Fact check: Biden's speech had an estimated 26.9 million viewers
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A joint sessions speech, known for its glad-handing cadence, was bound to be subdued with only 200 folks permitted at an event that can hold 1,500.President Joe Biden's address to a joint session of Congress was unlike any in modern history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no more than 200 folks permitted for an event that can hold up to 1,500, an event known for its glad-handing cadence and rousing moments was destined to be subdued.
The claim: President Joe Biden’s address to Congress had 11.6 million viewers
On the eve of his 100th day in office, President Joe Bidenhis vision of post-pandemic America to a small contingent of socially distanced lawmakers. Some conservative commentators say the speech, Biden’s first to Congress as president, didn’t get rave reviews.
from James T. Harris, a conservative radio host and social media personality, lists television ratings for five past presidential addresses — four from former President Donald Trump and one from Biden. The post says Biden’s address to Congress had only 11.6 million viewers, compared to 37.2 million viewers for Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech.
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“That’s over a 60% decrease in viewership,” Harris’ post says. “No crowds ever attended his rallies. There was no crowd at his installation. There are no views for his on-line speeches. The audience for his regular speeches are non-existent. Virtually no viewers at home. An empty chamber for his speech,… and yet we are to believe he received 81 million votes.”
Harris cited the Conservative Tree House, a website that published the same claim in. As evidence, the Conservative Tree House a website called the TV Ratings Guide.
“Biden didn’t win… we all know it,” says an image in the Conservative Tree House’s post.
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The election claim is wrong —the 2020 presidential election with 306 electoral votes, while Trump lost with 232 votes. And the Conservative Treehouse understated the total viewership for Biden’s address to Congress.
USA TODAY reached out to Harris and the Conservative Treehouse for comment.
Biden’s address had an estimated 26.9 million viewers
The Conservative Tree House significantly misstated the ratings for Biden’s primetime address. The president’s speech had 26.9 million viewers, not 11.6 million.
That’s according to, a widely cited firm that tracks TV viewership. Nielsen’s estimate, which was published the day after Biden’s address, includes viewers for 16 networks that aired the speech.
The TV Ratings Guide estimated Biden’s address had 12.2 million viewers. However, that only accounts for four networks — ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox — making Nielsen’s count a better estimate for the speech’s total viewership.
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The Conservative Tree House has a point about Biden’s speech receiving lower ratings than Trump’s addresses to Congress. Compared with Nielsen’s estimates, the blog’s list of viewers for Trump’s four State of the Union addresses is in the ballpark, although it rounds up significantly for some years. In 2020, Trump’s address to Congress had 37.1 million viewers, 38% more than Biden’s speech had, according to Nielsen.
But that ratings slump may have more to do with TV trends than who’s in the White House.
“The pandemic accelerated what has already been evident for years: Gradual erosion in live TV audiences in the United States,” Brian Stelteron April 29. “Simply put, as more people spend more time watching on-demand programming, the public is less inclined to watch live events. Sagging ratings for award shows like the Emmys and the Oscars have underscored this trend.”
Nielsen’s ratings also don’t capture all the ways people can view content online. The most-watched State of the Union addresses from the presidencies of Barack Obama and George W. Bush — when internet streaming wasn’t as popular — topped 52 million and 62 million, respectively.
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Biden events sparsely attended? Blame COVID-19
The rating figure isn't the only place this post goes wrong.
A recurring line of attack against Biden is that his rallies, speeches and other in-person events don’t attract large crowds. There’s truth to that claim, but it lacks context about why those events are sparsely attended.
Biden ran for president during the coronavirus pandemic, when in-person gatherings were limited to prevent the spread of the virus. While Trump’s campaignin the final months of the election season, which led to a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Biden campaign held and events.
In other words, Biden's events were small in part because he chose to keep them that way.
Biden’s April 28 address to Congress was the latest example of COVID-19 precautions limiting in-person attendance. No more than 200 peoplein the House chamber to hear the president speak in a place that can hold up to 1,500.
USA TODAYa claim that photos of Biden’s small campaign events showed a low-turnout rally as missing context.
Our rating: Partly false
The claim that Biden’s address to Congress had only 11.6 million viewers is PARTLY FALSE, based on our research. The claim is not literally true — Biden’s speech attracted an estimated 26.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen. But the address did have lower ratings than Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech, a slump that could be part of the decline in live TV viewers in the U.S. Attendance at Biden’s in-person events has been limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Our fact-check sources:
- ABC News, Oct. 7,2020,
- CNBC, Oct. 31, 2020,
- CNN, April 29,
- The Conservative Tree House, April 29,
- James T. Harris, April 29,
- Insider, Aug. 17, 2020,
- National Archives, accessed April 30,
- Nielsen, April 29,
- The TV Ratings Guide, April 29,
- USA TODAY, April 29,
- USA TODAY, April 28,
- USA TODAY, Sept. 22, 2020,
- USA TODAY, Sept. 12, 2020,//
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