Skip Navigation
Politics

State of the Union:
Obama’s greatest hits

President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address Tuesday. The audience within the chamber produced nearly 15 minutes of applause, making up 25.2 percent of Obama’s final SOTU address. This year's percentage of applause is the second smallest compared to those of previous years.

Political theater

A look at how the audience responded to Obama’s State of the Union speeches over the years.

Strongest applause for military

Average seconds of applause by most applauded topics, in seconds

Military or

National Security

 

13.6

Health-care

12.5

Government

or Partisanship

10.7

10.5

Economy

10.2

Education

Budget or taxes

10.0

Energy

9.4

Ending on a low note

Percentage of total speech time made up by applause by year

25.2%

Highest

32.4%

Lowest

25.1%

2009

2013

2016

An engaged audience

Number of lengthy applauses, in seconds

209

Ten of the applauses lasting longer than 20 seconds were for military mentions.

149

141

138

62

<5

5-10

10-15

15-20

20+

Strongest applause for military

Average seconds of applause by most applauded topics, in seconds

Military or

National Security

 

13.6

Health-care

12.5

Government

or Partisanship

10.7

10.5

Economy

10.2

Education

Budget or taxes

10.0

Energy

9.4

Ending on a low note

An engaged audience

Percentage of total speech time made up by applause by year

Number of lengthy applauses, in seconds

209

Ten of the applauses lasting longer than 20 seconds were for military mentions.

25.2%

Highest

32.4%

149

141

138

Lowest

25.1%

62

2009

2013

2016

<5

5-10

10-15

15-20

20+

Strongest applause for military

Ending on a low note

An engaged audience

Average seconds of applause by most applauded topics, in seconds

Percentage of total speech time made up by applause by year

Number of lengthy applauses, in seconds

Military or

National Security

 

209

Ten of the applauses lasting longer than 20 seconds were for military mentions.

25.2%

13.6

Health-care

12.5

Highest

32.4%

149

141

138

Government

or Partisanship

10.7

Lowest

25.1%

10.5

Economy

62

10.2

Education

Budget or taxes

10.0

Energy

9.4

2009

2013

2016

<5

5-10

10-15

15-20

20+

On the economy

“We will rebuild, we will recover ...”

Nothing has been more central to President Obama’s State of the Union addresses than the economy. In 2009, in his first address to a joint session of Congress, he sounded dire. As things improved, so did his tone. “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class,” he said in 2013. By last year, he was declaring victory: “Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.”

APPLAUDING THE ECONOMY, BY YEAR

The width of the bar is applause length

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

February 24, 2009: “You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost, the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread, the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”

APPLAUDING THE ECONOMY, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

30 seconds

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

February 24, 2009: “You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost, the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread, the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”

APPLAUDING THE ECONOMY, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

30 seconds

February 24, 2009: “You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost, the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread, the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”

On the budget and taxes

“... you will not see your taxes increased a single dime.”

The populist themes of increasing taxes on the wealthy and reducing the burden on low- and moderate-income workers has been a relatively consistent theme across several State of the Union addresses. The issue of tax inequality was a major feature of his address in 2012, when Democrats were advocating for the “Buffett rule” on taxes for the rich. “Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule,” Obama said. “If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. … Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.”

APPLAUDING BUDGET OR TAXES, BY YEAR

The width of the bar is applause length

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

February 24, 2009: “In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Now, let me be clear — let me be absolutely clear, because I know you’ll end up hearing some of the same claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, a quarter-million dollars a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime.”

APPLAUDING BUDGET OR TAXES, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2010

19 seconds

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

February 24, 2009: “In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Now, let me be clear — let me be absolutely clear, because I know you’ll end up hearing some of the same claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, a quarter-million dollars a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime.”

APPLAUDING BUDGET OR TAXES, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

19 seconds

February 24, 2009: “In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Now, let me be clear — let me be absolutely clear, because I know you’ll end up hearing some of the same claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, a quarter-million dollars a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime.”

On Education

“Dropping out of high school is no longer an option.”

The State of the Union is a largely aspirational idea, so education is an almost perfect fit. For the most part, it is a bipartisan issue, easily given to hopeful rhetoric about unleashing potential. Although some Obama positions — support for the Common Core academic standards, for one — have been sharply divisive, there is strong support around the country for many others, including college access and affordability, expanded early childhood education and expanding computer science, math, science and technology in public schools.

APPLAUDING EDUCATION, BY YEAR

The width of the bar is applause length

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

21 sec.

February 24, 2009: “So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”

APPLAUDING EDUCATION, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

25 seconds

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

February 24, 2009: “So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”

APPLAUDING EDUCATION, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

25 seconds

February 24, 2009: “So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”

On Health care

“... let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law ...”

Obama declared health-care reform a priority for his presidency before, during and after his first State of the Union address. The topic remained a consistent theme in all but one of his annual speeches to Congress, as Obama sought to defend the 2010 Affordable Care Act from Republican attacks and promote insurance enrollment.

APPLAUDING HEALTH-CARE, BY YEAR

The width of the bar is applause length

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

33 sec.

January 28, 2014: “I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first 40 were plenty.”

APPLAUDING HEALTH-CARE, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2015

2016

33 seconds

January 28, 2014: “I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first 40 were plenty.”

APPLAUDING HEALTH-CARE, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2015

2016

33 seconds

January 28, 2014: “I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first 40 were plenty.”

On Energy

“Even if you doubt the evidence [on climate change] ...”

In each of his State of the Union addresses, Obama has focused on clean-energy innovation, even calling for a new energy-focused “Sputnik moment” in 2011’s speech. He’s also focused heavily on the boom in U.S. production of shale oil and natural gas. But over time, a subtle change seems apparent. The president at first tended to focus most on why energy innovation was crucial to economic growth (even in the depths of the Great Recession). By 2015, however, the State of the Union speech was more focused on climate change and its threat to “future generations.”

APPLAUDING ENERGY, BY YEAR

The width of the bar is applause length

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

24 sec.

January 27, 2010: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing: Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future, because the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”

APPLAUDING ENERGY, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

24 seconds

2009

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

January 27, 2010: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing: Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future, because the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”

APPLAUDING ENERGY, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2009

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

24 seconds

January 27, 2010: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing: Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future, because the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”

On the military and national security

“We honor your service; we are inspired by your sacrifice ...”

The biggest constant in the foreign policy portion of President Obama’s State of the Union addresses has been the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his determination to end them. Obama started in 2009 promising to make good on his election pledge to responsibly end the Iraq war, even as he was contemplating a big increase in Afghanistan troop levels. The theme has carried through to all of his addresses. “The war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home,” he said of Iraq in 2010. By 2012, the last U.S. forces had left Iraq and he turned to the troops headed home from Afghanistan, even as new threats emerged in the form of the Islamic State. “Tonight, we turn the page,” he said last year. “Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.”

APPLAUDING MILITARY OR NATIONAL SECURITY THEMES, BY YEAR

The width of the bar is applause length

’09

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

52 sec.

February 24, 2009: “As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: We honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support.”

APPLAUDING MILITARY OR NATIONAL SECURITY THEMES, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

52 sec.

February 24, 2009: “As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: We honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support.”

APPLAUDING MILITARY OR NATIONAL SECURITY THEMES, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

52 sec.

February 24, 2009: “As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: We honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support.”

On government and partisanship

“I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust ...”

Among Obama’s most iconic campaign promises was a pledge to change the tone of American politics. In an initial campaign speech in early 2007, he declared that “the ways of Washington must change” and vowed to end partisanship and clean up the process of governing. Instead, as Obama heeded arguments from congressional Democrats and Washington veterans, his first two years produced legislative victories that were almost exclusively supported by Democrats. After Republicans took charge of the House in 2011, Obama began his State of the Union by noting: “It’s no secret that those of us here have had our differences over the last two years.” The next year, after laying out a long list of proposals, he declared: “None of this can happen unless we lower the temperature in this town.” That has yet to happen.

APPLAUDING GOVERNMENT OR PARTISANSHIP THEMES, BY YEAR

The width of the bar is applause length

’09

’10

’11

’12

’13

’14

’15

’16

21 sec.

January 24, 2012: “I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad, and it seems to get worse every year. Now, some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress.”

APPLAUDING GOVERNMENT OR PARTISANSHIP THEMES, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2009

2010

2011

2013

2014

2015

2016

21 seconds

January 24, 2012: “I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad, and it seems to get worse every year. Now, some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress.”

APPLAUDING GOVERNMENT OR PARTISANSHIP THEMES, BY YEAR

The height of bar represents applause length

2009

2010

2011

2013

2014

2015

2016

21 seconds

January 24, 2012: “I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad, and it seems to get worse every year. Now, some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress.”

Editor's picks

History through the president’s words

GRAPHIC | What the words in State of the Union addresses say about America from 1900 to 2016.

Who’s winning 2016?

GRAPHIC | How candidates compare across polling, money, endorsements and more.