Election 2020

Which Candidate Is Leading the Cable TV Town Hall Ratings Race?

While partisans freak out over Bernie Sanders doing Fox and Marianne Williamson getting air time, CNN is trying to catch some more Kamala Harris-type ratings magic


There hasn't been this much angst about cable news networks doing town halls with presidential candidates since (checks notes) seven weeks ago!

Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rocked the left-of-centersphere by agreeing to participate in an April 15 town hall broadcast by Fox News.

This follows yesterday's announcement by CNN that it will airing town halls with Democratic candidates Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (April 9), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (April 10), former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro (April 11), author Marianne Williamson, and tech entrepeneur Andrew Yang (April 14 each).

Since most conversations about presidential politics and television tend to lack numbers, let's add a few. First, regarding Bernie's allegedly transgressive act of crossing Avenue of the Americas to the hated Fox building, it's important to note that in a presidential primary season currently lacking in competitiveness on the Republican side of the aisle, 18 states have fully open primaries, and four others have semi-open contests, according to this Wikipedia tally. Talking to the other political team makes sense, particularly when there are so many more eyeballs watching Fox than MSNBC and CNN:

||| twitter.com/RoadMN

It's also important to remember, as Steve Chapman has reminded us in this space, that "most people don't spend much time watching cable news"—"nearly 230 million adults watch neither" Sean Hannity nor Rachel Maddow, the two biggest names in the genre (well, at least until recently).

Still, there's a reason CNN is so town hall-happy, hosting 10 of 11 such events thus far—the network is seriously ratings-sad:

CNN's average audience between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET in March was 884,000, compared to MSNBC's 2.12 million and Fox's 2.66 million. It's no wonder executives in Atlanta are trying to milk heightened political enthusiasm for all it's worth.

So who's winning the ratings primary so far? First-out-of-the-gate Kamala Harris, by a wide margin, with her 1.96 million viewers on CNN Jan. 28 (still a tad behind MSNBC's 2.35 million and Fox's 2.26 million in the 10 p.m. time slot). Harris is then followed by:

1.4 million Bernie Sanders, CNN, 8 p.m. (behind Fox's 2.96 mil and MSNBC's 1.78)

1.24 million Kirstin Gillibrand, MSNBC, 8 p.m. (Fox 3.17 million, CNN 1.21 million)

1.17 million Amy Klobuchar, CNN, 10 p.m. (Fox 2.56 million, MSNBC 2.46 million)

1.09 million Elizabeth Warren, CNN, 9 p.m. (MSNBC 2.98 million, Fox 2.95 million)

1.04 million Howard Schultz, CNN, 10 p.m. (Fox 2.47 million, MSNBC 2.21 million)

0.93 million Cory Booker, CNN, 10 p.m. (Fox 3.27 million, MSNBC 2.07 million)

0.75 million John Hickenlooper, CNN, 10 p.m. (Fox 2.42 million, MSNBC 2.3 million)

0.55 million Pete Buttigieg, CNN, 9 p.m. Sunday (Fox 1.27 million, MSNBC 1.02 million)

0.53 million Tulsi Gabbard, CNN, 8 p.m. Sunday (Fox 1.04 million)

0.49 million John Delaney, CNN, 7 p.m. Sunday (MSNBC 0.71 million)

Meanwhile, Fox is set to get its feet wet tomorrow night with the widely derided independent not-yet-announced candidate Howard Schultz, at 6:30 p.m. If nothing else, you can bet that Schultz will outdraw whatever airs on CNN.

NEXT: Texas Would Rather Ban All Chaplains from Execution Chambers Than Placate One Buddhist Inmate in His Final Moments

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  1. Ugh. I have hate-watched a few shows in my time. Didn’t make them good. But, if they’re going to go to all the trouble of booking the candidates and seeding audience questions that producers thought up, they deserve to get some demo points for the effort.

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  2. We are headed for a time when CNN has no viewers but plenty of advertisers whose virtue signaling CEOs put their desire to virtue signal over the interests of their shareholders and Carlson has millions of viewers but no advertisers. So much for the market solving all problems.

    1. What’s my problem of wanting to watch *cough*quality*cough* content ad-free, a ham sandwich?

    2. The problem is that there isn’t a true free market.
      Most of those CEOs would be on the breadlines if it wasn’t for massive subsidies, tax breaks and other forms of corporatism keeping them in clover. They just know how to play the game, and virtue signaling is part of that game.

  3. CNN has no viewers but plenty of advertisers thanks to virtue signaling CEO’s putting their desire to virtue signal ahead of their shareholders and Carlson will have millions of viewers but no advertisers. So much for the market solving all problems.

    Apologize if this is a double post. The squirels ate my first one it seems.

  4. Bernie’s allegedly transgressive act of crossing Avenue of the Americas to the hated Fox building

    A good politician knows when to compromise. It’s like, if you realize that spray painting the Supreme Court Building is unrealistic once you scope out the place, you settle for applying a sticker somewhere on the grounds, (a store sells nice ones at Union Station) and return home. The bus ride isn’t that long.

  5. Cable news is the number one reason why I dread visiting my parents. Why does the baby boomer generation obsess over it? I know it brings zero happiness into my parents’ lives, yet OMG I walk in their houses and it’s like an audio assault of awfulness.

    1. I don’t know how people watch it. I haven’t turned it on in years.

    2. My 86 y/o mother likes to watch Greg Gutfeld.

  6. I don’t own a TV anymore. What’s the point?

  7. Does the commentariat think Kamala Harris can beat Trump?

    1. I would expect her to draw more black votes than Hillary did, so she’d have that going for her, but she’s still going to be carrying the weight of all the “woke” parts of her platform in a general election, so she won’t be able to tack to the center the way Hillary could have, if she’d had any sense.

      So, given how close 2016 was, and how long we have until November 2020 for gaffs or economic downturns to crop up, I’d have to call it too close to call. But that’s better than I would have considered Trump’s chances in 2016.

  8. Kirsten Gillibrand is consistently polling at 0%.

  9. CNN really is pathetic, and they’re much more than the left’s version of FOX or Breitbart. How many times did Avenatti appear there?

    The gym that I go to always play sports or cable news on their TVs. I remember watching Anderson Cooper holding a “debate” on ACA and the plethora of Obama personnel did nothing but float lefty talking points, like “it’s not a good idea to have more choices on the market because they’re junk plans”. Well sure enough, people started to either drop their coverage or stopped enrolling as soon as the individual mandate went kaput.

    The American media let Obama admin skate on by when it stuffed families in detention centers and was sued by a family for alleged torture. Wikilieaks exposed them and they skillfully spun that as part of a Russian covert operation. They deserve Donald Trump and so much more.

  10. Gee what a shock. Consumers of cable news go there primarily for entertainment and bias confirmation.

    I really think real news is a bit of a market failure. The market for actual news is very small. The market for news that keeps you safe in your own little bubble, is huge.

    Other than NPR, is there another outlet that even tries to be balanced?

    1. “NPR… balanced”
      Heh, okay.

      1. Well sure they have a bias. But “balanced” is a relative term in this context, I suppose. Compared to the sensationalist crap like “Trump is a Russian asset!” or “Illegals are invading to kill your children!”, NPR is downright sane.

  11. Mayor Buttisex an outside favorite at this point. He’d like to poll highly in your “south bend”, too.

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