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Who’s watching?

October 23, 2007

For my first long blog post I’ve decided to crunch some numbers. Yeah I know, it doesn’t sound so exciting at first. But I was curious to see how good (turns out I should say “how bad”) viewership among the American people is today, and also the trends that presidential debate viewership have been taking since the 60’s when the televised debate was first introduced. The Commission On Presidential Debates has records on viewership numbers going all the way back to Kennedy and Nixon.
Things started out OK. The four televised debated in the 1960 general election drew an average viewership 63.1 million people per debate. At the time, this averaged out to be nearly 35 percent of the population watching each debate. Viewership percentages fell slowly, and not too alarmingly through the 70’s and 80’s. In 1988 an average of 27.5 percent of the population tuned in each night.
The year America changed the channel appears to be 1996. An average of 41.2 million people watched the debates, that’s a population average of only 15.5 percent at the time. Numbers from 2000 show that viewership was continuing to slow.
One thing I noticed in looking at all this was that Americans tuned in their greatest numbers for the 1960 debates between Kennedy and Nixon, and 1960 was the only election year to feature 60 minute debates. Every year after that the debate time was increased to 90 minutes. Is it possible that working Americans just don’t have those 90 minutes in their day to spare?
Early projections of viewership in 2008 don’t look too promising. The highest rated debate thus far has been Fox News Channel’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, which was seen in 2.47 million households. Debates held on CNN and MSNBC have fared worse.

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