All the cable news networks love a lively presidential primary with plenty of action. It drags on for the better part of two years and provides them with an endless stream of content to fill the empty hours of the news cycle. And as some of them have discovered, the candidates will eagerly sign up to do town hall events (unless it’s on Fox News, of course), generally delivering a respectable audience and helping them in the ratings race.
But there’s an exception to every rule, as the saying goes. CNN found that out when they hosted both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Rather than locking up a rapt audience, their ratings crashed like a bird hitting a wind turbine. (The Hill)
CNN’s town hall featuring 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday night registered just 402,000 total viewers, including 82,000 in the coveted 25-54 demographic, according to early Nielsen Media Research.
The Bullock-de Blasio event marked an all-time ratings low for town hall events on the network in 2019. Viewership was down 25 percent overall and 38 percent in the younger demographic compared to CNN’s 2019 average for Sundays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Fox News finished first during that time slot, averaging 873,000 total viewers. MSNBC was second, with 664,000 viewers to CNN’s 402,000.
As you can see from the totals, Fox News wound up more than doubling CNN’s performance with no feature programming outside of their normal evening lineup. MSNBC continues to benefit from the larger than usual number of liberals tuning in for the Democratic primary coverage.
I’m not sure how high the expectations were for that town hall in any event. We’re talking about two candidates who would basically need to quadruple their current levels of support to even qualify for “dark horse” status. De Blasio consistently polls at close to zero percent support and isn’t even popular in his own city anymore. And to be honest, I’d actually forgotten that Bullock was running until I saw this article, and I have to write about this stuff for a living.
Both of these candidates currently ring up 0.7% support in their RCP averages. The voters who are paying close attention to the primary race know who they want to see and who they want to hear from. Most of the attention is rightly focused on Biden, Sanders, Warren and possibly Kamala Harris, though she seems to have peaked early and is now starting to fade.
Of course, we might not be fair in blaming this ratings debacle entirely on the two candidates. CNN has been struggling to attract viewers for quite a while now. A quick look at the results from the second quarter of this year will show you that Fox and MSNBC are running away with the race, leaving CNN trailing in third place in nearly every metric available. So unless they come up with something truly unique and of interest to voters, they’re probably not going to be cracking the one million mark anytime soon.
But with that said, let’s admit the truth. Having de Blasio and Bullock on as their feature attraction certainly didn’t help.