Tuned In

What We’re Learning from the Convention Ratings (Or Lack Thereof)

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The ratings for the first night of the Democratic National Convention are in, and they’re not tremendously more impressive than those for the first night of the RNC: about 22 million viewers in the 10 pm hour, compared with about 20.5 million.*

*Update: The above figures are for the three broadcast and three cable networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, FNC, MSNBC and NBC). Nielsen has also posted full viewing figures including smaller networks and PBS, totaling 22.3 million for the RNC and 26.2 million for the DNC.

One can interpret the figures any number of ways—at the New York Times, Nate Silver conjectured that smaller audiences may correlate to smaller post-convention polling bumps. But here are a few things we can say, and a couple other questions the numbers lead to:

* More people watched the DNC than the RNC—but not many more. By my calculations, about 1.5 million, or a little over 7% more. [Again, this figure is greater with the complete figures including PBS from Nielsen. Infer what you like about Democrats and PBS.]

* It ain’t 2008 anymore. Both conventions were sharply down from the same night in the last election. (In 2008, the conventions were also held the week before and after Labor Day, with the Dems and Reps positions reversed.) A lot of people may simply be tuning out this election (or, at least, following it in other formats and tuning out the conventions).

[Update: I was mistaken, above, to say the DNC was sharply down, though its ratings on channels other than MSNBC were. In 2008, night one got over 22 million voters—whether the DNC rises or drops over the following nights will show how well it compares overall; the 2012 RNC began on pace with 2008, but lagged overall because the next two nights were much lower rated than 2008. And, as I noted last week on Twitter when people noted the dropoff in RNC ratings, you can’t correlate ratings with votes too closely—Sarah Palin got a gigantic tune-in in 2008, and the main beneficiaries were Tina Fey and HBO.]

* Fox and MSNBC have the home-team advantage, and disadvantage. Fox beat all networks night one of the RNC; at the DNC, MSNBC beat everyone except its broadcast sister NBC. Conversely, Fox came in last in overall viewers last night, as MSNBC did with the GOP. CNN also had a boost of over 2 million viewers for the DNC, while the broadcast networks stayed roughly the same. Which makes me wonder…

* How many people are watching both conventions? I suppose it’s possible millions of voters decided Fox was the best place to watch the Republicans and MSNBC the best place to watch the Democrats. But it may also be that millions and millions of voters are watching only the party they already identify with. Which leads to the question…

* Who are TV conventions for anymore? The mythical interested-but-undecided swing voters—do they still exist, and do they watch politics on TV? Are there people out there who haven’t picked a candidate, and are choosing to watch two weeks of conventions to make a reasoned decision based on the two parties’ best arguments? Or is it mostly confirmed politics junkies, just waiting to cheer for the zingers and hear how their own side plans on campaigning to the actual undecided voters?

Maybe. But if you want to reach those undecideds—they may well be watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo instead.

24 comments
BuluJenny
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John
John

You were "mistaken?"

And you probably wonder why Time Magazine is circling the dustbin of history while you are stuck writing there.

I haven't read time magazine in almost a decade and found this article by googling "DNC ratings".  What I found in that search was not only that the DNC beat the RNC for 2012, but that the total viewership is actually UP from 2008.

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 Again, as I said to Saul below, on a different matter, I'm aiming at an apples-to-apples comparison. The reports that the DNC ratings are up from 2008 are based on comparing the full 2012 Nielsen figure of 26.2 million, to the 2008 Nielsen figure of 22.3 million, which does not include PBS:

http://blog.nielsen.com/nielse...

Nielsen did not begin measuring PBS, a noncommercial network, until 2009. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12... So we can't know what their figures for 2008 would be if they had included PBS. Again, if you compare the ratings figures for commercial broadcast and cable networks for both 2008 and 2012--apples to apples--2012 (at just under 22 million) is a little under 2008 (at 22.3 million).

I too have seen the reports you Googled, but they're not comparing the same sets of networks between the two years.

I was mistaken to include the DNC under "sharply" down in that sentence, hence the correction. The RNC was sharply down from 2008 overall; not the DNC, though we only have one night of complete ratings to compare as of now.

Tony Figueroa
Tony Figueroa

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GN
GN

Interesting analysis.  Thx for the numbers!  I'm a political junkie and highly enjoyed both conventions, though for vastly different reasons lol (like you, I'm a die-hard fan of the President and First Lady).  I'm hoping that the Dem #s stay up, because some really terrific speakers are lined up, hoping to match the wonderful performances of night one.  Glad to know that DNC2012 is keeping pace with nice one of 2008, and the RNC.  Go Dems!

revacoop
revacoop

1.  More people watched the DNC via MSNBC than directly on the major networks, so there wasn't such a dropoff in audience, overall. The MSNBC wasn't rated here.

2.  The DNC ratings on the major networks for Tuesday in 2008 and 2012 were about equal:  22 million.

GN
GN

That's really good news; I expected many fewer people tuned in, as we all know the Obamas so well now.  I guess like me, even those familiar with their stellar work in the WH still tune in to them with interest.

Alison McKenzie
Alison McKenzie

what about those that watch in their computers? Are they being counted as well?

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 Good question! Not, at least, by Nielsen in this number; nor by definition does it include people watching later on DVR. (Nor do we know whether one party's voters are more likely to watch online, amp;c, amp;c...) All reasons why comparing ANY kind of TV ratings to several years previous is becoming trickier, as technology changes.

Leeza
Leeza

Republicans work so they typically don't watch as much tv as Democrats.

Third Party Logistics
Third Party Logistics

i totally agree with you because the all apologies are worthless front of that

Saul Berger
Saul Berger

this article is bs. the republican national convention was the one with 22 million people watching not the democratic national convention, they even stated it during the republican national convention broadcast. The democrats probably had less people watching because everyone knows they are full of hot air. These guys really need to check their facts 

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 The 22 million figure for the RNC, which Nielsen has here --http://blog.nielsen.com/nielse... -- includes PBS and CNBC (which Nielsen has not yet released for last night, so the DNC 22 million figure does not include them either). The above figures, for both DNC and RNC, are for the six commercial networks, ABC, CBS, CNN, FNC, MSNBC and NBC--I cite the same figures for both for an apples-to-apples comparison.

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 OK: Nielsen just posted the corresponding figures for all networks including PBS, for which the DNC got 26.2M viewers, compared with the 22M+ figure for the RNC:

http://blog.nielsen.com/nielse...

I'll also update the post to include this info.

BemusedOne
BemusedOne

You and your damn facts, James. Facts have a well-known liberal bias.

Drew Robertson
Drew Robertson

The conventions are designed for leaners not undecideds.  Are there really any high mentation-low information voters out there? Don't think so.