From approximately 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. last night, President Obama delivered the State of the Union address to Congress and a national television audience. Even for a SOTU, it seemed a bit long -- but how long was it historically? Curious ourselves, we used data on lengths of the State of the Unions from the American Presidency Project to confirm that while, yes, compared to most such speeches it ranks as pretty lengthy, but it isn't close to the longest ever.
At 7,059 words, this year's speech was the 10th longest by word count out of the 91 State of the Unions delivered to Congress in person. (By time, on which there is less data, it ranked ninth.) One caveat: we excluded State of the Unions submitted to Congress as written reports, which was the norm before Woodrow Wilson and tended to be quite long since they didn't need to be orated. One Obama State of the Union was slightly longer -- his 2010 speech ranked sixth -- while five of the other speeches with higher word counts came from the loquacious Bill Clinton, who took a whopping 9,190 words to address late 1995 government shutdown.
To those tempted to ascribe yesterday's verbosity to the president taking avantage of his bully pulpit to get reelected, the data doesn't make the case that speeches get significantly longer in election years. Looking at the second graph below, it seems to have a lot more to do with the fact that, like Clinton, Obama is a confident orator who can sustain a lengthy speech, and hence both presidents' SOTUs end up being drawn-out. Historically, Obama's State of the Unions are the second longest on average.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.