Tucker Carlson and Chris Hayes

The Changing Information Landscape

At 8 PM Eastern on Election Eve 2020, nearly 6.4 million people are estimated to have tuned in to watch “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on FOX News. Another 2.6 million people are estimated to have tuned in to “All In With Chris Hayes” on MSNBC.

By the end of the next evening, more than 158 million Americans would have cast ballots in the election for President of the United States. The 6.4 million who watched Tucker would make up about 9 percent of the total votes counted for President Trump, and the 2.6 million who watched Chris Hayes would make up about 3 percent of the total votes counted for Joe Biden.

While a survey from the Pew Research Center confirms what political consultants know instinctively, that the most committed watchers of those respective cable networks (FOX News and MSNBC) are strongly partisan. For those who say FOX News is their main political news source, 93 percent self-identify as Republican or leaning. Among those who name MSNBC as their top political news source, 95 percent identify as Democrat or leaning.

This presents an important distinction: while over 90 percent of the people habitually watching either network are likely to be in partisan alignment with the programming, nowhere near 90 percent of partisans are watching the program. In other words, these programs have a high concentration of partisans, but surprisingly poor reach.

It follows then that public affairs campaigns and communicators who intend to reach these partisan groups have to consider that while these networks are efficient in terms of not wasting much message on people who won’t agree with one ideology or the other, they alone do not effectively reach the full ideological cohort.

For conservatives and campaigns that wish to build support and mind-share among conservative Americans, the issue is further exacerbated by a collapse in FOX News viewership since the 2020 election.

On Monday, January 18, 2021, about 3.5 million people tuned in to watch Tucker Carlson on FOX News, arguably still the most influential single television program in the country among conservatives. Still, that represents a roughly 45 percent drop from the 6.4 million who watched on Monday, November 2.

Left-leaning interests have, thus far, not seen the same drop-off. Chris Hayes’s program on MSNBC pulled in 2.4 million viewers on January 18, a drop of less than 10 percent.

According to an aggregation by USA Today, CNN surpassed FOX News as the top cable news network overall during the period from Election Day (November 3) through the Inauguration (January 20). FOX News dropped to third place, trailing MSNBC, among the A25-54 demo.

CNN’s editorial bent has been severely hostile to conservative interests during the Trump era, and even in late 2019 the people who named CNN as their primary news source were strongly Democrat, with 79 percent self-identifying as Democrat or leaning. Neither CNN nor MSNBC changed their editorial approach post-election, so the question begs asking: where did the conservatives go?

For one thing, smaller outlets like Newsmax increased their viewership dramatically in November and December compared to their October metrics, according to the same USA Today aggregation for the post-election period. Pew names a few online and print outlets with similar or even more conservative audience skews: the Washington Examiner, Daily Caller, and Breitbart. On radio, the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh programs continue to be supported consistently by conservative listeners.

Altogether, the drop among FOX News viewers creates an opportunity for other conservative outlets to be the new landing spots for the news and information consumers on the political right who are seeking a new place to rest their eyeballs.

The best way for communicators and public affairs campaigns that want to see around this corner and find this audience where they land next comes down to understanding conservatives (and their counterparts) as more than just a stereotype. Not all conservatives sat with their faces glued to a TV broadcasting FOX News before the 2020 election, but even fewer do today.

When your insights come from those who understand the diversity of the audience, then you can begin to ask the right questions about your market research. From there, you can start to get the answers you need to better achieve your goals.

Source links:

Showbuzz Daily cable ratings for November 2, 2020:

Showbuzz Daily cable ratings for January 18, 2021:

USA Today:


Pew Research: