Ratings fall flat as most Americans tune out impeachment spectacle
There are about 330 million Americans. According to the ratings, nearly 320 million of them aren’t watching the House impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
Despite television networks’ fervent belief that the country should be paying attention, with wall-to-wall coverage on all the cable news stations and most of the broadcast networks, the early days of hearings have drawn paltry ratings, as viewers vote with their eyes.
“It’s on constantly but I’m not paying any attention to it,” said Emily Brown, a waitress at Mandy’s, a popular breakfast and lunch spot near New Orleans.
In Omaha, Nebraska, bartenders told The Washington Times that their channels are tuned to sports, and they’ve not had patrons asking to change the channel.
On the city’s streets the spectacle drew yawns as well.
“I’m not really watching it during the day. I’ll look online at night just to see what happened,” said 47-year-old Jeremy, an Omaha dog groomer, as he played with an excited boxer.
Most Americans appear to be following the same strategy of skipping the game but checking the box scores later, turning to Twitter or newscasts to find out what happened.
Tuesday’s morning session averaged 11.4 million viewers across the three big cable news stations and ABC, CBS and NBC. The afternoon session averaged 13 million viewers.
Those were similar to the 12.7 million viewers Friday’s hearings drew on average — down from the 13.1 million posted on Nov. 13, the first day of public hearings.
It’s far from the “huge” audiences Reuters reported that the networks had expected to tune in, but it’s also not the “way down” ratings that Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the intelligence committee, touted during one of Tuesday’s hearings.
Wednesday brought another day of hearings, but attrition has begun.
As the clock struck noon on Wednesday in Washington — perhaps the most interested potential audience — the local ABC affiliate had ditched impeachment coverage and was airing its regular newscast instead. The Fox station had a daytime talk show.
NBC and CBS were still going wall-to-wall with impeachment, joining the cable news stations.
Those viewers who did tune in heard a confusing day of testimony.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said he figured there was a quid pro quo tying U.S. military assistance to Ukraine agreeing to conduct investigations Mr. Trump had sought. But Mr. Sondland also said he had never heard anyone explicitly tell him one was contingent on the other — and indeed Mr. Trump explicitly told him there was no quid pro quo.
Both sides emerged from the hearing to say their argument had been made.
According to the oddsmakers, Democrats are so far getting the best of the hearings.
SportsBettingDime.com said the odds on Tuesday stood at -210 for the pro-impeachment side, which works out to a 67.7% probability of impeachment. A month ago the probability was less than 50%, according to the site.
PredictIt, an online market that offers users a chance to bet on outcomes, said Tuesday was its most active day of trading on the impeachment question since Oct. 5.
The real markets, however, have not been fazed by the impeachment spectacle, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average setting new records over the last week, albeit it with a down day Wednesday.
Perhaps most striking has been Mr. Trump’s approval rating which stands at 44% in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls. That’s virtually unchanged, with only a point or two of variation, since his State of the Union address in February — a remarkably consistent record.
Likewise support for impeachment remains largely unchanged since the beginning of public hearings a week ago, with some surveys even showing a drop in support.
It’s not that voters don’t believe the case against Mr. Trump, according to polls. It’s that they aren’t sure he’s that different from any other Washington figure.
“It’s probably something that most politicians do at some point. There’s a lot of bartering,” said Rick Gardner, a bartender in Greenville, South Carolina. “That’s sort of the game of politics.”
Mr. Gardner, 46 years old, said he grew up a Republican but is torn on his views of Mr. Trump. He has, however, been paying attention to the hearings.
“Yeah I watch it, trying to figure out exactly what he’s trying to be impeached for, and is it such a crime he needs to be impeached,” Mr. Gardner said. “There seems to be some basis to it, that’s for sure.”
In Atlanta, where Democrats held their presidential primary debate Wednesday night, there was also interest in the goings-on, with the hearings playing at a pizza spot in East Point.
Dan Halback, 83, heading into the bar to play pinochle with fellow retirees and military veterans, said he’d been flipping the channel back and forth between “old westerns” and the impeachment hearings — though he admitted his doctor told him to keep it to a minimum, saying too much might not be good for him.
“I think the facts right now show the president did something he shouldn’t have done,” he said. “Whether it rises to the level of impeachment, I don’t know, but what he did is wrong.”
The bartender at the tavern next door, Andrew Dean, 40, said he is excited about impeachment proceedings and thinks Mr. Trump should have been tossed a long time ago. But he said it is hard to gauge interest in the hearings and he has not had any patrons ask for the hearings to be turned on.
• Seth McLaughlin and James Varney contributed to this report