We shouldn’t care about TV ratings. They mean even less than polling does to the outcome of the election, and polling doesn’t mean much.
All I’ll say is that I think Biden is now entitled to refer to Trump as a “low-rated cuck” for the duration of the campaign.
Not that he should, mind you. Just that he’s entitled.
Seriously, though, someone’s getting droned. To Trump, losing a TV ratings war is like losing a real war.
Overnight ratings for the fourth and final night of the conventions.
Six networks combined (FNC/CNN/MSNBC/ABC/CBS/NBC). Ratings are for the duration of each nominee’s speech only:
Democratic / Biden – 17.5
Republican / Trump – 14.1
— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) August 28, 2020
Mulvihill claims that the very different lengths of the two speeches, with Biden noticeably short and Trump noticeably long, had no apparent effect on the ratings. People who tuned in for POTUS stuck with him to the end.
Trump hasn’t tweeted anything about the ratings as I write this at 2:30 p.m. ET but it’s a matter of time. He’s way, way too insecure to absorb a blow like this without feeling obliged to spin it away as a product of some sort of chicanery. TV is supposed to be his milieu, not Biden’s. In fact, with last night’s defeat, the GOP ended up losing the ratings battle on all four nights to the Dems. Apart from night two, it wasn’t particularly close.
He lost the battle with his 2016 self too, although that one comes with a big asterisk:
Trump’s total will also finish well below the 35 million TV viewers who watched him accept his party’s nomination in 2016, and will fall short of the acceptance speeches of previous Republican nominees John McCain (38.9 million viewers in 2008), Mitt Romney (30.3 million viewers in 2012) and George W. Bush (27.6 million in 2004).
I never, ever would have guessed that McCain’s 2008 speech outdrew Trump’s acceptance four years ago. Granted, 2008 was a year of unusually high electoral interest, with the first black president receiving the most votes of anyone in American history. But I didn’t think that translated to a monster audience for McCain’s speech as well. Anyway, you know what the asterisk is for: There are many more people watching online in 2020 than there were in 2016, so it may be that Trump drew more viewers overall last night than he did four years ago. It’s just that not all of them were in front of a television.
As for why more Americans tuned into Biden than to Trump, there are various theories. One is simple: Trump fatigue.
I'm skeptical that winning the convention ratings race matters all that much. But, this would be consistent with voters feeling like they've heard enough from Trump and not being terribly receptive to new messages (although there wasn't that much new last night anyway). https://t.co/GG6dtnrWYj
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) August 28, 2020
He’s been yapping on TV or on Twitter practically 24/7 for the past three and a half years. What he has to say usually doesn’t vary much either, just lots of chatter about hoaxes and fake news and things being rigged. In TV parlance, Biden’s acceptance speech was a new episode. (Or, I guess, a reboot of a series that had run for 45 years before briefly being cancelled.) Trump’s speech was the ultimate re-run.
Another obvious possibility is that there are more Democrats out there than Republicans, and therefore you’d expect the Democratic convention to have an edge in ratings. It’s mostly strong partisans who watch these things, after all. Note the bluish trend in the cities that tuned in for Sleepy Joe versus the reddish trend in ones that tuned in for POTUS:
Top markets for Vice President Biden’s acceptance speech last week:
New York – 23.1
San Francisco – 23.1
West Palm – 21.7
Washington – 20.9
Philadelphia – 19.5
San Diego – 19.3
Seattle – 19.0
Denver – 19.0
Chicago – 18.9
Baltimore – 18.9
— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) August 28, 2020
Interesting that Biden outdrew Trump in West Palm Beach.
Anyway, more D’s than R’s nationwide logically means more potential viewers for Democrats than for Republicans — although four years ago Trump’s acceptance speech outdrew Clinton’s. Hillary wasn’t a true incumbent that year but she was certainly a more familiar political commodity than Trump was; he may have edged her out by drawing a certain number of voters who felt they already had a bead on her politically but wanted to learn more about him. Something like that could have happened this year too. Not that Joe Biden’s not familiar after 8,000 years in Washington, but the 2020 version of him is newer to voters than the day-in day-out Trump show is.
In the end it doesn’t matter how many people watched, it matters how many persuadable voters did. We have no sense from the ratings of which party did better in that regard or whether they succeeded at persuasion. The polls next week will give us a sense. It’s worth noting, though, that Trump-friendly Rasmussen found his job approval dropping this week from 51/47 as the convention began to 46/52 as it wrapped up. I doubt that has anything to do with the convention itself, but it suggests that the show might not have moved many voters towards him.
I’ll leave you with this exchange from two of Biden’s top spokesmen, clearly relishing the news.
You mean the self-described "Ratings Machine DJT," who bet the farm on this & broke the law to exploit the White House as a prop *while* pretending he isn't in charge as the pandemic spins out of control and violence & division flare up?
Nah, I think he'll be totally sanguine. pic.twitter.com/HFtMt4Ms4q
— Andrew Bates (@AndrewBatesNC) August 28, 2020