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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's television ratings may be the latest indication that his popularity is slipping, despite his move to push job creation to the top of his policy agenda.
Just over 48 million Americans tuned in to the telecast of his State of the Union speech on Wednesday, about 4 million fewer than watched his first address to Congress a month after taking office last year, Nielsen figures showed on Thursday.
Yet, Obama's latest speech, seeking to reconnect with Americans angry about a weak economy and high unemployment, surpassed the numbers that either of his immediate predecessors -- George W. Bush or Bill Clinton -- averaged with their State of the Union addresses.
Both Clinton and Bush averaged fewer than 46 million viewers in their respective eight annual messages to Congress.
While a president's TV audience can reflect his standing in public opinion polls -- Obama's approval level has declined since his inauguration -- Nielsen ratings also ebb and flow according to events.
Bush, for example, failed to crack 40 million viewers with either his first address to Congress or his last. But his January 2003 speech, a couple of months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, was watched by 62 million Americans, the biggest audience on record for an official State of the Union.
Clinton scored higher, 66.9 million viewers, with his first address to Congress in 1993. But that speech, like all first presidential addresses to Congress, was not considered an official State of the Union.
By comparison, Obama's first address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009, was seen by 52.3 million viewers. Bush's first drew 39.8 million.
Wednesday's State of the Union was not Obama's first TV appearance to compare unfavorably to previous prime-time outings. A televised address to the nation in December to outline the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan drew 40.8 million viewers, about 10 million fewer than two televised speeches in February 2009 on the issue of healthcare reform.
Still, Obama continues to top U.S. television's highest rated series, "American Idol," which drew 24.7 million viewers in a Wednesday night broadcast that gave him a strong "lead-in" on the Fox network on the East Coast.
Nielsen's latest Obama tally included all four major broadcast networks, plus the three leading cable news channels, the BET (Black Entertainment Television) network, business cable channel CNBC and Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb