It's silly -- and mostly an excuse to make a video featuring the dashing young speaker. The odds are good that Ryan won't end up a beloved State of the Union emoter (the speaker sits behind the president and is visible throughout the speech) as was his predecessor, so that video may be his best chance at going viral. (So far, not so good: 250-odd views.)
The thing is, though, that Ryan's office isn't totally wrong.
The last time someone polled on Ryan's favorability was shortly after he assumed his new office. At that point, last November, 30 percent of respondents didn't know enough about him to have an opinion. There's the target audience for your video, guys!
Honestly, though, we need videos for everyone else, too. We looked at a swath of polling to figure out how well all of the various people in that room are known to the public. In most cases, a big chunk of the country doesn't know who they are. We took a photo of last year's speech and overlaid blocks obscuring members of the audience to the degree that the public has no idea who they are. The more obscured they are, the fewer Americans know much about them.
The president and vice president. Happily, most Americans have opinions on President Obama and Vice President Biden. That 97 percent familiarity is a big improvement over where Biden was in 2011. At that point, a different survey indicated that 30 percent of the country couldn't name the vice president. Different metrics, but it's pretty safe to assume people have gotten to know him more over the last four years.
The Supreme Court. Gallup polling shows that most Americans have an opinion on what the court has done in recent years. But a 2012 survey found that two-thirds of us couldn't actually name any justices. That includes Chief Justice John Roberts, who both has the highest position on the court and also has a name that's the sort of thing you might guess if you were just guessing names. ("Can you name a Supreme Court justice?" "Uh... (looks around nervously) John ... Robert ... s ...?") Only a fifth of Americans could guess his name.
The Cabinet. Members of the Cabinet differ. Lots of people have heard of John Kerry; more than 80 percent of Americans have an opinion on him. But the Cabinet on the whole is different. In 2003, 58 percent of Americans couldn't name a single department of the Cabinet -- that is, State, Interior, etc. That was in 2003, of course, and the numbers might have changed by now. For example, if someone guessed that John Quincy Adams was a member of the Cabinet, we'd give partial credit.
The House. In 2013, Gallup found that 65 percent of respondents didn't know the name of their own representative. You might argue that they would still recognize that person if he or she appeared on TV, perhaps during that super-weird walk of fame the president does when he enters, high-fiving actual adults. But if 65 percent can't name their own representative, how many do you think know the names of any other members of the House?
As Jimmy Kimmel showed last year, probably not many.
The Senate. Believe it or not, the senators are even less well-known. Last March, a survey found that 77 percent of people couldn't name either of their state's senators.
In other words, there is an American out there who wouldn't recognize a member of the Supreme Court or the House or the Senate or the Cabinet or Paul Ryan if he were watching the State of the Union address.
Happily for him, I guess, the odds are good that he won't be watching.