Why is the State of the Union always ‘strong’?
Religion & Liberty Online

Why is the State of the Union always ‘strong’?

I have a can’t miss prediction: tonight, when President Trump gives his first State of the Union address, he will describe the state of the union as “strong.” (I’ve made this prediction on this blog the past several years, so I’m hoping for a quadfecta of prescience tonight.)

Admittedly, predicting that the state of our union will be described as “strong” is about as safe a bet as you can make when it comes to politics. Over the last hundred years presidents have described the State of the Union (SOTU) in various ways — Good (Truman), Sound (Carter), Not Good (Ford). But it was Ronald Reagan who started the “strong” trend in 1983 by referring to the SOTU as “Strong, but the economy is troubled.” Since 1983, “strong” has been used to refer to the SOTU in 29 addresses.

Here is how the state of the Union has been described over the past hundred years:

2016: Strong (Obama)
2015: Strong (Obama)
2014: Strong (Obama)
2013: Stronger (Obama)
2012: Strong (Obama)
2011: Strong (Obama)
2010: Strong (Obama)
2009: Stronger than before (Obama)
2008: Strong (Bush)
2007: Strong (Bush)
2006: Strong (Bush)
2005: Confident and Strong (Bush)
2004: Confident and Strong (Bush)
2003: Strong (Bush)
2002: Never been stronger (Bush)
2001: Strong (Bush)
2000: Strongest it has ever been (Clinton)
1999: Strong (Clinton)
1998: Strong (Clinton)
1997: Strong (Clinton)
1996: Strong (Clinton)
1995: Stronger than it was two years ago (Clinton)
1994: Growing stronger but it must be stronger still (Clinton)
1991-92: [Status of the SOTU not specified] (Bush I)
1990: Sound and strong (Bush I)
1988: Strong, prosperous, at peace, and free (Reagan)
1987: [No status of the SOTU specified] (Reagan)
1986: Stronger than a year ago and growing stronger each day (Reagan)
1985: Stronger, freer, and more secure than before (Reagan)
1984: Much improved (Reagan)
1983: Strong, but the economy is troubled (Reagan)
1982: [No status of the SOTU specified] (Reagan)
1981: Sound (Carter)
1980: Depends on the state of the world (Carter)
1979: Sound (Carter)
1978: Sound (Carter)
1977: Good (Ford)
1976: Better–in many ways a lot better–but still not good enough (Ford)
1975: Not Good (Ford)
1974: At peace with every nation of the world (Nixon)
1973: Sound, and full of promise (Nixon)
1969-1972: [No status of the SOTU specified] (Johnson, Nixon)
1968: Challenged (Johnson)
1966-67: [No status of the SOTU specified] (Johnson)
1965: Depends, in large measure, upon the state of the world (Johnson)
1950-1964: [No status of the SOTU specified] (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson)
1949: Good (Truman)
1948: Reflects the changing nature of the modern world (Truman)
1928-47: [No status of the SOTU specified] (Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman)
1927: In general is good (Coolidge)
1926: One of general peace and prosperity (Coolidge)
1925: One of progress and prosperity (Coolidge)
1913-24: [No status of the SOTU specified] (Wilson, Harding, Coolidge)

Note: Speeches given in 1989, 1993, 2001, 2009, and 2017 were not technically “State of the Union” addresses, which start a year after presidents have been in office.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).