US President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (R) listen at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2021 (AFP / POOL / Jim Watson)

Biden speech audience lower than Trump’s, but not 11.6 million

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

Social media posts and websites claim that US President Joe Biden’s speech to Congress on April 28, 2021 drew 11.6 million viewers, a significant drop from predecessor Donald Trump’s addresses. But Biden’s speech drew an estimated 26.9 million people, and the 11.6 million figure was an early number from audience measurement firm Nielsen.

“TV Ratings for Presidential Addresses: Trump 17--48,000,000; Trump 18--46,000,000; Trump 19--46,800,000; Trump 20--37,200,00 ; Biden 21--11,600,000,” conservative pundit Charlie Kirk tweeted on April 29, 2021, the day after Biden, America’s 46th president, spoke.

“No crowds at his rallies. No crowd at his inauguration. Empty chamber for his speech. Virtually no viewers at home. 81,000,000 votes?” he wrote, hinting at debunked claims that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump. 

Screenshot of a tweet taken on April 30, 2021

The speech audience claim also spread elsewhere online, including Facebook, Instagram, websites and message boards.

However, it is inaccurate to say there were only 11.6 million viewers of Biden’s remarks, which was not a State of the Union Address, as were three of the Trump speeches listed.

The number of viewers of Biden’s presidential address were widely reported, and came from the same source: Nielsen.

The company’s data is routinely cited by media organizations after key events. It later released its final estimate for viewers of Biden’s speech, which was 26.9 million -- considerably higher than the initial 11.6 million number.

A screenshot of Google result thumbnails taken on April 30, 2021

The figures circulating online for Trump addresses in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 roughly match those reported by Nielsen.

A screenshot taken on April 30, 2021 shows a Nielsen press release listing figures for speeches by Donald Trump

Biden’s ratings were lower than Trump’s for his equivalent 2017 speech. CNN attributed the difference to the gradual erosion of live TV audiences in the United States.

Nielsen’s 26.9 million figure accounts for live coverage including out-of-home viewing and connected TVs, but not internet streaming, radio, and other formats.

Biden received 81,268,924 votes in the 2020 US election, and claims that the vote was plagued by fraud have been systematically debunked by AFP Fact Check.