Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. react to the audience Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
For those of you who work in politics, or are perhaps masochists, I think we can all agree that Wednesday’s debate sounded a lot like the last debate and that despite the cheering of some Democrats on social media, there wasn’t a lot there to see. It was, for all intents and purposes, a rerun.
Despite the 6.6 million people who tuned in to watch it, most of America shrugged the debates off and tuned out to watch something else. Having over 6 million sounds like a lot, but compared to other debates, this actually a very low number.
Twenty percent lower, in fact, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter, who claims to have some insight as to why:
Wednesday’s Democratic debate, the fifth this year, was the least-watched debate of this election cycle. The ratings for MSNBC were down more than 20% from last month’s match-up on CNN.
One obvious reason: The televised impeachment hearings earlier in the day sucked all the political oxygen out of the room. Some viewers who spent all day watching House testimony probably didn’t want to spend all night watching a debate.
On the other hand, cable news viewership levels have been significantly elevated by the hearings, so that theoretically could have benefited MSNBC. But it didn’t.
About 6.6 million people were watching between 9 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. ET, according to overnight Nielsen ratings.
So people were tired after watching the clown show that was the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump?
I doubt that. Personally, if I’m looking back at history, I can tell you it had nothing to do with the fatigue of that day and has everything to do with the fatigue of this race.
There’s only so much a candidate can say before they start repeating themselves, and everything noteworthy that comes out of the debates are spats between certain candidates, embarrassing moments, line flubs, and “can you believe she said that” moments.
If you watch racing for the crashes, it’s the same thing. You have to sit through long spats of watching cars turn left before what you came for happens. In debates, even the crashes aren’t that exciting.
The DNC clearly wasn’t watching when this happened with the RNC when debate fatigue set in for Republican voters. The first debate for the 2016 elections brought in 24 million according to The Hill. By the time the third debate came around, only 14 million people were watching.
Oversaturation is more damaging than it is helpful.
What’s more, too many debates in the primary is the same as risking your best players in preseason. While the spectacle is nice, you risk injuries that they might not come back from. After a politician has made their point about their platforms clear, continuing to put them up on stage and fight is going to expose one weakness after another. While everyone is focused on the infighting, the other team is taking notes too.
So are the voters.
While we can laugh at the fact that Democrats are only getting a fraction of the viewership now that Republicans were getting during the 2016 elections, the fact that so many people are tuning out is probably the best thing Democrats can ask for.
However, one thing that can be gleaned is that these numbers do say some things about who is paying attention to Democrats, and that’s not many. Republicans may have been suffering from (or were blessed with) viewership loss, but it wasn’t this bad. Combine that with the fact that Trump is still filling stadiums while Democrat contenders can’t fill a room in a community center, 2020 isn’t looking good.
This is why more eyes seem to be on the impeachment proceedings.