As Variety's senior TV reporter, Daniel Holloway, wrote at the time, “buzz around the ABC host spiked in the past week.”
The first week of October, when Kimmel called for new gun-control measures after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, was his most-watched since June, when his show benefited from having the NBA Finals as a lead-in. Excluding that basketball-aided period, the first week of this month was Kimmel's best since January.
More broadly, Kimmel's season average of 2.33 million nightly viewers is 4 percent higher than at the same time last year. He remains in third place, behind Colbert and Fallon, but has closed the gap between second and third considerably — from an average of 510,000 viewers to 280,000. (Notably, first and second place have switched. Colbert, an outspoken critic of President Trump, now outdraws Fallon, who avoids taking sides.)
While talking politics can seem risky, evidence suggests that Kimmel, like Colbert, actually is not sacrificing ratings by speaking out on issues that are important to him.
“I saw — I don’t know if it was a study or a poll or some combination of those two things — that, like, three years ago, I was equally liked by Republicans and Democrats, and then Republican numbers went way down, like, 30 percent or whatever,” Kimmel told “CBS Sunday Morning” in an interview that aired over the weekend. “And, you know, as a talk-show host, that’s not ideal, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
A Kimmel spokeswoman said the comedian was referring to an online poll conducted by YouGov that showed Kimmel's favorability rating among Republicans fell from 60 percent in the fall of 2014 to 24 percent last month. His favorability rating among Democrats climbed from 68 percent to 74 percent in the same time.
It is easy to understand how Kimmel might have turned off some conservatives, of late. In a scathing monologue on the Sept. 19 episode of his show, Kimmel alleged that Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) “lied right to my face.” Cassidy had been a guest on Kimmel’s program in May and said he wanted any GOP health-care bill to pass what he called the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” a standard that would, among other things, prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.
Kimmel’s infant son was born with a congenital heart defect that the host has discussed on the air.
When Cassidy co-sponsored a bill that did not guarantee coverage for people with preexisting conditions, Kimmel blasted the senator and his plan.
After the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history, in his hometown of Las Vegas, Kimmel got political again.
“The Second Amendment, I guess, our forefathers wanted us to have AK-47s is the argument, I assume,” Kimmel said. “Orlando, Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino — [in] every one of these shootings, the murderer used automatic or semiautomatic rifles, which are not weapons you use for self-defense. They’re weapons designed to kill large numbers of people in the shortest possible amount of time. And this guy, reportedly, he had 10 of them in his room, apparently legally. At least some of them were there legally. Why is that allowed? I don’t know why our so-called leaders continue to allow this to happen.”
As Kimmel told CBS, his diminished standing in the eyes of some Republican viewers is “not ideal.” But for now, at least, it appears that either those irritated viewers are tuning in anyway, or that they are being replaced — and then some — by new ones.