Posted by: Joshua Green on September 12, 2011
I’m not big on making predictions, but here’s one for tonight’s Republican debate in Tampa: Not a lot of viewers are going to tune in. “But, how could that be,” you may ask, “with all the pulse-quickening excitement sure to surround the impending Romney-Perry showdown over Social Security?”
Glad you asked! The answer is that the debate’s timing is a travesty of bad scheduling. That’s particularly true given the hoped-for audience of Republican voters. Tonight’s debate has the great misfortune of going up against not one, but two, Monday Night Football games. Political consultants conduct lots of demographic research about which shows various types of voters watch. It’s important to them because, for instance, if they’re buying television ad time for a Democratic candidate, they want to be sure they’re reaching a liberal audience — and liberals and conservatives have very different viewing habits. As I wrote earlier this year, one reason ratings tanked for NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” is that Donald Trump was running for president as a fire-breathing, right-wing birther while the audience for his show was among the most liberal on primetime television.
The chart above was given to me by Will Feltus, the senior vice president for research at National Media, Inc., a firm that places political ads on television. It breaks down primetime audiences according to their partisan skew and likelihood of voting (you can see Trump way over there on the left with the Communists). Well, according to Feltus’s info, the two most popular primetime television shows for committed Republicans are … football! NFL football and NCAA football. In other words, the debate organizers could hardly have picked a worse time to try and lure Republican viewers. Just a guess, but given that tonight is the season debut, I’ll bet that Republican viewership for Monday Night Football is especially strong.
Thus my prediction that Republicans won’t tune in to the debate. If a candidate were particularly clever, I suppose he or she could try and time any attacks or memorably lines for halftime. But that’s probably asking too much.