Enjoy the bliss of forgiveness if you chose not to watch President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
If history is a guide, you weren’t alone. Ratings for the big show dipped each year of Barack Obama’s presidency, with better TV choices and the tendency for TelePrompTer boredom. The scenario where the designated survivor becomes president never happens. The drinking games dry up quickly. Even in this politically frenzied era, Trump’s first address to Congress in 2017 got higher ratings than Obama’s last, but lower than his first. (The National Mall was packed, I’m sure.)
State of the Union addresses don’t tend to change America’s mind about the guy speaking. A review of Quinnipiac Poll trend tables from before and after the speeches shows generally flat or few-point approval shifts, dating to George W. Bush’s presidency.
“Whatever blip might occur tends to be very short-lived,” says Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “The bottom line is there’s no real ‘wow’ moments.”
The address, a partisan and often lengthy exercise, rarely tends to be the kind of communal American ceremony that really binds us together as a people or has an immediate impact on our lives.
For that, maybe you were holding out for Groundhog Day this Friday, when Punxsutawney Phil and other unfortunate animals will take a look at their shadows and let us know whether we’ll be enduring weeks more of slush and snow and space heaters.
It’s a 19th century tradition rooted in ancient solstice celebrations past! It’s fun and lighthearted, and maybe gives you some winter jacket inferences! Mayor Bill de Blasio only dropped the Staten Island beast once! Well, I’m sorry to tell you that the good folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have crunched the numbers and put together a table of the groundhog’s results since 1988, and “the table shows no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of this analysis.”
In fact, you might skip tuning into the groundhog thing entirely and mull over the fact that 2017 was “the third warmest year since record keeping began in 1895,” as NOAA’s groundhog repository notes, and “the five warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S. have all occurred since 2006.”
(If you’re actually curious about what the rest of the winter will be like, NOAA meteorologist Gerry Bell points to three-month outlooks indicating an increased chance for above-average temperatures across the southern and eastern United States, with below-average temps elsewhere).
That leaves the community-seeking American with the Super Bowl, for this week at least. That classic commercial-ingestion event is on Sunday, and maybe you will weigh the nachos and chicken wings with the strangeness of rooting for grown men slamming their heads into each other and risking concussion, as you make your decision about how up-to-date you need to be for Monday’s water-cooler conversations. (Of course your work doesn’t have a water cooler. Those were offloaded in the most recent corporate right sizing. But company teamwork and community is still important!).
For New Yorkers, the choice is easy, given that the Giants and Jets might as well be golfing at Mar-a-Lago for all anyone cares, given their respective seasons. On to the Pyeongchang Olympics, then. Our next chance for an uncomplicated national party — as long as it’s less nuclear-posturing, more curling.