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Viewers Not Exactly Flooding News Networks in Election Run-Up

29 Oct, 2008 By: Response Contributor

The 2008 presidential election is going to be a tough one to call, so where will the TV viewer go to find out all the latest updates on this close race? Comedy writers are hard at work to make sure it comes from them.

Well, maybe it’s not that hard. “Saturday Night Live” is doing its best to keep the candidates in the ridiculous light, with Tina Fey’s portrayal of Gov. Sarah Palin generating lots of buzz and laughter – and even better rating numbers for both the Saturday show (up an incredible 55 percent from the same time in 2007), as well as its “Election Specials” on Thursdays. Late night programming, such as “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” are keeping the uninformed informed through the use of sarcasm and over-the-top humor. The opening monologues on both “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night” poke fun at both candidates on a daily basis as we move closer to Election Day.

But the one place that you might think should show huge improvement in viewership is the one place viewers aren’t headed to: the news and information networks. A study of the viewing patterns for the months leading up to the elections in 2000, 2004 and 2008 show that “news” bucket stations like Fox News and CNN saw no significant shift in viewership in the weeks leading into the elections.

News networks showed an increase in viewership of 2 percent in 2000, but followed that with a decrease of 3 percent in 2004. In fact, a decrease in overall cable viewership was found as the country decided the next president. Even the notion of a recession and major economic issues can’t bring enough viewers to flip from the A&Es of the world to MSNBC, as the news networks are currently showing only a 3-percent increase in week-to-week viewership.

So where are the viewers going, you ask? The answer is network broadcast and their local news. This year’s debates showed an increase of 23 percent on ABC, CBS and NBC from 2000. Also, the weeks leading into the November election coincide with the beginning of the fall TV season (which has shown a slight dip in ratings compared to years past), as well as the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series, as well as the start of the NFL season.

It just goes to show you that when important decisions need to be made, you can count on the viewer to pick new episodes of their favorite shows over the Gallup poll.

Eddie Wilders is a media analyst at Lockard & Wechsler Direct in Irvington, N.Y. He can be reached at

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