Trump claims his State of the Union was most watched 'in history.' It wasn't.

Image: Supporters watch President Donald Trump speak at a State of the Union watch party
Supporters watch President Donald Trump speak at a State of the Union watch party hosted by the Hamilton County Republican Party on Jan. 30, 2018, in Cincinnati.John Minchillo / AP

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By Jane C. Timm

President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday morning that viewership for his first State of the Union address was “the highest number in history.”

But according to the numbers, that's simply not true.

According to Nielsen, 45.6 million people watched Trump give his address on Tuesday. That's significantly less than the 51.7 million viewers President George W. Bush enjoyed for his first State of the Union in 2002, and the 62 million viewers he garnered for his second. And it's less than the 48 million people who watched Barack Obama’s first State of the Union eight years ago.

Trump could be attempting to include viewers who watched online, but that number is impossible to determine: Online streams are not included in Nielsen ratings, nor are they typically released by networks in order for them to be counted by anyone.

Trump’s claim is baseless, but it’s not surprising: He frequently misrepresents the size of his audience.

The president and his administration wildly exaggerated how many people watched his inauguration last year, insisting repeatedly that it was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe." It wasn’t; Obama’s 2009 crowd takes that title.

As a candidate, Trump routinely exaggerated his crowds. At his second campaign rally, Trump tweeted that there were 12,000-15,000 in attendance when in fact, there were around 4,200. At one of the last rallies of his campaign, Trump said there were 20,000 people in attendance at a Tampa rally, with 7,000 people waiting to get in outside. The Tampa Bay Times reported there were 15,000 in attendance, with 1,000 turned away, citing the local sheriff's office.

To be sure, Trump's crowds are big. Just not as big as he says they are.