Cable News Ratings As Election Indicators

Huffington readers have doubtlessly read of CNN's low ratings in the second quarter of 2012. Lowest in 21 years was suggested by most of the television reporting press. It was only later that we learned the Nielsen ratings were available for only 21 years, so it may have been even longer than that, but that is not the point of this piece, which concerns itself with Fox News' triumph over the same period.

Fox News averaged 1,761,000 primetime viewers last quarter. The other news networks, MSNBC, CNN and Headline News, 1,474,000 viewers in primetime. Fox, had about 20% more viewers than the other three networks combined. If you believe, as I do, that viewers tend to watch the news that they find most agreeable, then conservatives found 20% more to like on the news than the viewers of the three supposedly liberal news networks.

It was almost the same case in total day. MSNBC, CNN and Headline combined had just 4,000 more viewers than Fox News did all by itself. It seems to me that liberal viewers have become increasingly dissatisfied with MSNBC, CNN and Headline News. MSNBC viewing was down 11%, CNN dropped 35% and Headline News 32% in the last quarter. Fox News was up 1%. Fox News didn't do so well in demographic numbers -- in 18-49s, Fox News had 3,000 more viewers than MSNBC and CNN, but Headline News had 95,000 viewers. It was the same in 25-54s, where Fox News had 30,000 more viewers than MSNBC and CNN, but Headline contributed another 128,000 to the liberal camp. Finally, among 18-34s, who traditionally watch little news, MSNBC had 44,000 viewers, and Fox News only 42,000. CNN and Headline News combined for 44,000.

In the past three elections, I have forecast the winners accurately by comparing the number of viewers watching Fox News with viewers watching the liberal combination. In all three of the cases, I got it right. Now, I think everything's different, there's no question fogies still go for Fox News, but just maybe, younger people, particularly 18-34s, are paying little attention to cable news, and spending more time on the internet where they respond to pings from Facebook, Yahoo, The New York Times or Twitter. Maybe if large numbers of them vote, they can overcome fogies and make the 2012 election extremely interesting. If that doesn't happen, the latest cable ratings indicate that Romney is in the lead and President Obama will have a hard time catching up.