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Reese Schonfeld Headshot

Ratings: Fox News, the Old Folks Network

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I rarely write about ratings on a weekly basis, but last week's ratings include the first Presidential debate and viewer reaction to it. FoxNews had by far the largest audience -- more viewers in primetime and in total day than MSNBC, CNN and Headline News combined. On that basis, I'd be inclined to predict that Mitt Romney has taken a clear lead in the polls, and President Obama has a lot of work to do to catch up.

When you get down to the demographics, it's a different story. In all three Nielsen demos (18-34s, 18-49s and 25-54s), MSNBC and CNN combined have more viewers than FoxNews, in 18-34s in primetime CNN alone outdraws FoxNews. Last week's ratings reflect two days before the debates, the debate day itself and four days after, so I'm not prepared, like most of the polls since, to say that either candidate has a real lead, but they certainly demonstrate that Romney's gained a lot of ground.

The age gap in the audience between the 55s and up and the 18-54s scares the hell out of me. I'm afraid that people 55 and up are guilty of the "I've got mine, now you get yours" syndrome. They seem to be pulling up the ladder on their children and grandchildren--the Romney/Ryan plan protects the benefits (social security and Medicare) of all those sixty and up, while it seems to provide much more risky procedures, like "vouchers", to younger Americans. I'd like to believe that younger Americans have picked up on the Ryan/Romney risks and that's why more of them are watching CNN and MSNBC.

For the past four elections, I've been predicting results by comparing the size of FoxNews' audience with the combined audiences of CNN and MSNBC, so far I've gotten them all right. Based on last week's total numbers: Romney wins, but if you look at demographic numbers, Obama's still in front. So, I guess that I, like Gallup and Pew, think it's too early to put anybody clearly ahead, and I hope I don't have to do another one of these until the end of October.