President's State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications [January 12, 2009] [open pdf - 306KB]
"Over time, the State of the Union address has evolved considerably. The format and delivery of the speech has changed, and its length has fluctuated widely. Technology has also influenced the delivery of the address, with the advent of radio, television, and the Internet playing significant roles in the transformation. Although each President uses the State of the Union address to outline his administration's policy agenda, most incorporate common rhetorical arguments and ceremonial traditions. Bipartisanship, attention to both the past and the future, and optimism are recurring themes in State of the Union addresses. The legislative success rate of policy proposals mentioned in State of the Union addresses varies widely. Addresses given after a President's election or reelection and during periods of unified party government tend to produce higher rates of legislative success. Presidents can also use the State of the Union address to increase media attention for a particular issue. Immediately following the State of the Union address, the political party not occupying the White House provides an opposition response. The response, usually much shorter than the State of the Union, outlines the opposition party's policy agenda and serves as an official rejoinder to the proposals outlined by the President."
CRS Report for Congress, R40132
U.S. Dept. of State, Foreign Press Centers: http://fpc.state.gov/