When something like the impeachment of a sitting president happens for only the third time in a nation’s nearly 250 year history you can bet that the event will draw people’s rapt attention. And that was sort of true on the first day of the Senate trial last week. But since then? Not so much. The Associated Press summons up some data, along with anecdotal reports, showing that viewers have largely been tuning out the trial far more so than being fixated by it.
For all the gravity of a presidential impeachment trial, Americans don’t seem to be giving it much weight.
As House impeachment managers make their case to remove President Donald Trump from office, voters in several states said in interviews with The Associated Press that they’re only casually following the Senate trial, or avoiding it altogether — too busy to pay close attention, bored of the legal arguments, convinced the outcome is preordained or just plain tired of the whole partisan saga.
Web traffic and TV ratings tell a similar story, with public interest seeming to flag after the House voted last month to impeach a president for only the third time in U.S. history.
Some of the citizens they interviewed for this report tell similar stories. One person said, “I want to watch something that takes me someplace happy.” Another claimed that she had been watching “some really odd stuff” just to avoid it. (I can relate, lady. We watched a marathon of Expedition Bigfoot recently.)
The ratings back up the conclusions drawn by the AP. AdWeek reports that the ratings for the trial have dropped almost every day. By Saturday, Fox News was drawing the biggest audience who tuned in for the proceedings, but it was still lower than what they usually garner for their normal programming.
Interestingly, CNN drew the smallest impeachment trial audience among all viewers on Saturday, while MSNBC had the lowest score among the coveted adults age 25-54 demo. So just how bad were the ratings? You know you’re not doing well when you’re losing out to soap operas.
Some may find these figures to be disappointing, but can you really blame the people who are choosing to occupy their time in other ways? Heck, I can barely bring myself to watch most of it and I get paid to do this for a living.
Perhaps it should have been predictable. No matter which side of the impeachment fence you reside on, this is some pretty dry material to take in and it doesn’t offer much in the way of suspense. If you’re one of Trump’s critics who hope to see him removed from office, the media has already made it clear to you that the conclusion of the trial is preordained. There’s no indication whatsoever that the Democrats will be able to muster a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove the President from office. And if you’re one of Trump’s supporters, you’ve already heard all of the arguments that his lawyers are currently making. And if everything is just going to go back to normal after the final vote, what’s the real draw here?
The only real excitement left (if you can call it that) will come after Trump’s lawyers finish making their case. That’s when the Senate will vote on whether or not to introduce new witnesses and evidence. If that happens, the Senate Democrats running for their party’s nomination will really be stuck between a rock and a hard place because the trial could drag on all the way through the New Hampshire primary. (And I’m sure John Bolton would be happy to attend since he’s got a book to sell.) But the Democrats will need four Republicans to go along with the plan and so far they seem to be coming up short. Assuming the measure fails and depending on how long the rest of the procedural maneuvers and the final vote take, it’s conceivable that this thing could be over by the weekend or early next week at the latest.
But look on the bright side. You’ve still got another full week to binge-watch whatever’s left in your Netflix queue.