Learning Center

State of the Union

The State of the Union address will be on January 28, 2014 at 9:00 PM. It will be televised on major networks and news channels, and streamed online. After the speech, you can find the text and video in the sidebar of this page.

What is the purpose of the State of the Union Address?

The State of the Union is an annual address presented before a joint session of Congress and held in the House of Representatives Chamber at the U.S. Capitol. The address reports on the condition of the country, and allows the President to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities to Congress (and the American public).

The address is held at the US Capitol, in Washington, DC. It happens each January, after each year of the President’s 4-year term begins on January 20. It is an annual address presented before a joint session of Congress and held in the House of Representatives Chamber at the U.S. Capitol. The address reports on the nation, and allows the President to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities to Congress and the American public.

Who attends?

Three branches of the federal government: Executive (President and Cabinet), Legislative (Congress) and Judicial (Supreme Court). At least one important official is selected to not attend. This is so that someone is available in the event something bad happens to the many important leaders who will be meeting in one location.

Often, the President will invite guests who have been newsworthy or who represent a topic he will address. For example, if he plans to talk about education he may invite a teacher. The guests sit in the balcony with the First Lady.

What is the ceremony?

The State of the Union Address not only provides important information about the President’s goals, it is a ceremonial event that has taken place (in some form) since 1790. The location and method of delivering the speech has changed over the years.

  • Usually, the members of the House enter and are seated at 8:30PM.
  • Then the Vice-President and Senate are announced and take their seats.
  • The Supreme Court Justices and President Cabinet members enter, go to their seats.
  • At 9:00, the President is announced. He enters the meeting room, and usually takes some time to shake hands and greet a few people as he makes his way to the podium. People clap and cheer.
  • Then he delivers the address for about an hour.

Politics and news coverage

The Vice President and Speaker of the House sit behind the President. It is sometimes interesting to watch their expressions as he speaks. They will also stand up and/or clap and cheer (or stay seated) when the President makes a point they like or don’t like.

During the address, the different political parties will stand up and clap and cheer about parts of the speech they agree or disagree with. Often, when one party claps, the other party makes a big deal out of not clapping or standing up – almost as if they were sitting on their hands to symbolize that they do not agree!

In 2011, it was proposed that the attendees not sit by political party or stand and clap during key points in the speech, to symbolize their bipartisanship.

Watch how the media covers the State of the Union address, including before the speech, the discussions afterward, and the news reporting the next day.

After the State of the Union address, the opposing party (this year the Republicans, because the President is a Democrat) will issue their response. This is usually televised immediately after the State of the Union, and made available by text and video online.

What is discussed?

The President may cover a variety of topics such as:

  • Afterschool Programs
  • Children/ Youth
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Global issues
  • Government
  • Guns
  • Health
  • Jobs
  • K-12 Education
  • Leadership
  • Military
  • Political parties
  • Safety and security
  • Taxes
  • Technology
  • Terrorism
  • Working together

Learning opportunity

The State of the Union is a great civic learning opportunity. Students watch or read the State of the Union address and think critically about the speech, its content, how it is communicated and how it is reported.

Watch how the White House prepares - a view behind the scenes from the 2012 speech: