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Drawn-out Election Gives Cable's Talking Heads Big Tune-in Gains

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Author
Jeffrey Silverman, PhD
Director, Data Science & Analytics
Nov 24, 2020
3
MINUTES 
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Election night 2020 brought big audiences to the cable news channels, but as Tuesday turned to Wednesday and the race was too close to call, viewers eagerly tuned-in to get the latest updates. As vote counts trickled in over the days that followed, primetime cable news programming saw a significant boost in household tune-in compared to the week before, according to our latest data analysis.

As votes were counted, CNN and MSNBC saw massive gains in viewership on Election Day and continuing into the week past. Fox News, however, saw tune-in begin to drop November 9 as the network began to call other states in favor of President-elect Biden. With other networks like Newsmax and emerging digital content emerging as a counter to Fox, this could be an interesting shift in the new year that we’ll be following. 

Black and Hispanic voters played a pivotal role in this year’s election, casting record votes and impacting the heightened role of the swing states. Similar to the voting pattern, the viewing habits between Black and Hispanic households differed dramatically. Black households over-indexed on viewership of CNN and MSNBC leading up to and following the election. While  Hispanic households under-indexed on most of these shows during the same time period. 

Let’s take a look at primetime programming in the days immediately following the election. 

Nov. 4 

The day after the election brought especially big numbers for MSNBC and Fox News' regular programming, with household viewership nearly doubling from a week before for every MSNBC program.

Nov. 5

As the election’s results were still uncertain by Thursday, the networks benefited from continued and massive increases when typical post-Election Day coverage would begin to drop. While CNN and MSNBC saw the largest increases compared to the previous week, Fox also garnered high household viewership across its weekday lineup.  Every primetime program on CNN was up at least 234% from a week before, while nearly every MSNBC program continued to see more than twice as much tune-in from the previous week. Meanwhile, Fox News saw modest gains as it seemed less likely that the Republican incumbent would retain office. 

Nov. 9

On Monday, the first weekday after the networks called the election for Biden, CNN mostly continued their week-over-week gains, while MSNBC and Fox households flattened or dropped out. In other words, CNN was getting higher viewership after the result than they were in the run-up to election day, likely due to viewers eager for more content on the new president-elect. It was by November 9 that Trump began tweeting about Fox’s unfavorable coverage and advocating for other sources like Newsmax. 

The 2020 Presidential Election was not short of suspense beginning when votes started to trickle in and continuing for days. This unique scenario provided some clear boosts in viewership from cable news’ top weekday news programs, while the country eagerly awaited the result. We’ll continue following this space as Newsmax makes a play for Fox News viewers, digital contenders emerge, and cable news coverage returns to the news dujour. 


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