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Cable News Convention Ratings as Election Indicators

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Two weeks ago, the week of the Republican Convention, Fox News dominated primetime news ratings. Over the week, Fox News averaged 3,462,000 viewers between 8pm and 11pm. Last week, the Democratic Convention averaged between CNN and MSNBC 3,625,000 viewers, giving them about a 4% edge over Fox News.

The Dems did even better with younger viewers. Among 18-34s, Fox News boasted an audience of 173,000 while CNN and MSNBC between them had 434,000 viewers, that's more than two and half times as many. Among 18-49s, FoxNews averaged 548,000 viewers, while CNN and MSNBC gathered 1,218,000, that's more than twice as many. It was closer among 25-54s, where Fox News collected 783,000 while the CNN/MSNBC combo picked 1,057,000, that's about 35% more. Obviously, Fox News' biggest advantage is among older Americans -- those not counted in any of the Nielsen demographics, that is people 55 years old and up.

Every election year, I use cable news viewers as an indicator of who will win the November election. The above numbers would seem to indicate a very large edge for Obama, but I wouldn't count the chickens before the hatch. A far greater percentage of older voters go to the polls than do 18-34s, so the election is far from settled. If we stick with the total audience ratings, Obama's 4% edge is just slightly under what the polls are showing after he got his post-Convention bounce.

That makes my news viewing methodology seem very sound, but it's a long way to election day and as this week's events have established, this race is still up in the air. Given Mitt Romney's latest "issue" -- his comments regarding the current uprisings in the Middle East, anything can happen. I can't wait to get this week's numbers and see if Romney's remarks hurt or helped his candidacy.

Parenthetically, Fox News' numbers for total day viewing were far worse than their numbers in primetime. Since it's hard to determine just which parts of the total day consisted of convention coverage, I don't want to make too much of it, but the MSNBC/CNN combo had 50% more total viewers than Fox News and much bigger advantages in the demos, beating Fox News about 2 to 1 in those categories.