The 2016 Democratic National Convention has been widely praised for its production values, and viewers seem to agree: Ratings for the carefully constructed coronation of Hillary Clinton were, on average, stronger than those for last week’s Republican National Convention. The Philly proceedings trumped the Cleveland numbers on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and were in line (or even a bit above) the three-night 2012 DNC. The GOP might be able to claim a win over the Dems with the final night of the convention, however. Coverage of Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday drew at least 27.8 million viewers between 10 p.m. and approximately 11:45 p.m., according to early Nielsen data. That figure includes viewing on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC; final numbers will go up once viewership on PBS and smaller cable networks is released later today. While precise declarations of how Clinton’s speech did versus Trump’s can’t be made until those all-inclusive numbers come in, so far, hers is tracking a bit below Trump’s: 30 million watched The Donald on the aforementioned six commercial broadcast and cable networks, a number that rose to just under 35 million in the final tally. It’s possible the addition of PBS and some time adjustments could tip the balance toward Clinton, but not likely. That said, the reason for Trump’s somewhat bigger average can be attributed to almost one network: Fox News.
Last Thursday, the GOP-friendly network dominated convention ratings by drawing an eye-popping 9.4 million viewers for Trump’s speech, almost doubling the audience for second-place CNN and inflating the Republican nominee’s overall performance. By contrast, Clinton’s speech was seen by just 3 million viewers on Fox News, putting the network in last place for the night and delivering just one-third of the week-ago Trump numbers. CNN, meanwhile, surged to 7.5 million viewers with Clinton (versus 5.5 million for Trump) and MSNBC jumped to 5.3 million (compared to 3 million a week ago). The broadcast networks were basically flat week to week. Given Fox News’s antipathy toward Clinton and Democrats in general, none of this is a yuuuuge shock. But if Clinton ends up falling a bit behind in speech-to-speech ratings comparisons, the Fox factor likely explains why. And for anyone looking to use convention ratings as a tool to forecast November’s result, here’s a word of advice: don’t. The last two times we had elections without an incumbent seeking re-election — 2000 and 2008 — the party that had the bigger overall convention ratings ended up losing.