THE BLOG

Viewers and Voters -- A New Polling Method

05/29/2008 10:41 pm 22:41:00 | Updated May 25, 2011

Never has the month of May been so good for the cable news networks as this year. FoxNews primetime ratings are up 10 percent year-to-year, CNN's are up 59 percent, and MSNBC's 50 percent. Among adults 18-49 and 25-54 the numbers for CNN and MSNBC are even better. CNN is up 72 percent and 70 percent in those categories while MSNBC has gained 63 percent and 64 percent. Fox results were more modest- up 11 percent and 14 percent respectively.

All of this is to be expected. The primaries and the intensity of the Clinton/Obama battle have glued news junkies to their tv sets like nothing before. As expected, Fox gains are far less since the Republican primaries are over and the thrill of the race is long gone for conservative viewers. Democrats are still on the edge of their sofas. In primetime, CNN averaged 106,000 more viewers this year than last among 18-49 year olds and MSNBC has picked up 91,000. CNN was up 127,000 25-55 year old viewers while MSNBC gained 108,000. Fox gained only 72,000 viewers between the two categories.

In the younger demographics, the biggest primetime gainer is MSNBC. It picked up 52,000 18-34 year olds, doubling the previous year's numbers. CNN added 29,000 viewers and Fox 25,000. Again, this should not surprise, because younger voters are Obama's biggest boosters and they have flocked to Keith Olbermann and MSNBC as the most Obama-friendly network. Total day ratings are similar. MSNBC gained as many new, young viewers as Fox and CNN combined.

Percentage numbers are often misleading. For instance, although Fox was only up 23 percent in total day viewing, in raw numbers it gained as many viewers as CNN since Fox began with a much larger viewer base. Both gained an average of 164,000 viewers over a 20 hour period. MSNBC added 129,000, which was a 50 percent increase over the year before.

The question is will people vote the same way they view? If so, we have a new polling method. If we assume that all primetime FoxNews viewers will vote Republican and all CNN and MSNBC viewers will vote for Democrats, the Democrats based on last month's results would win the election by about 2.5 percent of the popular vote. On a total day basis, the CNN/MSNBC Dems win by about 3 percent. But given the much greater Democratic interest in May's primaries, neither of these leads is great enough to ensure a Democratic victory in November when conservatives' interest is rekindled.

If viewing habits do accurately predict voting decisions, McCain it seems to me has a narrow edge in the general election and if I were a Democrat, I'd be damned worried.

As an afterthought: When I worked for United Press, national election years, the quadrennials we called them, were budgeted separately because they cost us a lot of money and we gained no revenue. Cable news networks have reversed the process. Given political advertising and their gains in audience size, they tend to make more money in quadrennial years in election years than in other years. So no matter how many on air people are demanding that Hilary withdraw from the race their bosses should be salivating at the probability that the Democratic race will go all the way to the convention and the ad dollars will continue to roll in.