Who was watching last night

August 29, 2012

Nineteen Republicans delivered speeches Tuesday night at the party convention, with one hour carried by networks and more picked up on cable news outlets.

The 16,000 journalists currently in Tampa certainly watched the remarks, but what about the rest of the country? Conventions speeches, after all, rarely break news or tell voters things they did not know. So who actually watches these things?

Georgetown University Jonathan Ladd has put together a great set of charts that answer that question. He shows that convention viewership has actually been going up in recent years, since the start of this decade, but most of that seems to be due to a spike in 2008.

"There was a decline after 1992, but that was reversed with a big increase in viewership four years ago," Masket captions. "It will be interesting to see if we return to the post-1992 norm or see viewership more like 2008."

It's also worth noting that Masket's chart uses gross number of households. When you measure viewership as a percent of American households - as the Wall Street Journal does in the chart below - the viewership trend looks less positive.


Republican convention viewers seem to be pretty split on where they get their news: About half watched on cable in 2008 and half on the networks, according to data from Pew's annual State of the News Media Survey. Among those watching on cable, there was a definite - and, perhaps, unsurprising - preference for Fox News. Here's what that looked like in 2004:

The big question is: How much does it matter? Ladd points us to this chart from Tom Holbrook, so we can get a sense of whether polling data tends to move in a candidate's favor after all the media attention.

There is indeed a bounce but, in recent years, it hasn't been especially large. It's worth noting that it doesn't seem to have much to do with viewership at all: 2008 saw the highest number of television rankings - and a very small impact on the polls.

 

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Ezra Klein | August 29, 2012