Out In America: Two Conventions, Few Viewers

The Republican and Democratic conventions are over, but their actual impact likely won’t be known for several days or weeks. Because despite all the hours spent broadcasting the events, the post-game analysis will likely prove to be their most critical parts.

ACP Director Dante Chinni just spent two weeks driving through Ohio and Pennsylvania talking to voters as the conventions were underway in all sorts of communities – from rural eastern Ohio (Working Class Country) to Exurban Columbus, from upscale suburban Philadelphia (Urban Suburbs) to greater Scranton (Middle Suburbs).

The biggest finding: Regardless of the locale most people don’t watch them closely.

IMG_0766The shuttered Ormet Aluminum plant in Monroe County Ohio

Voters see bits here and there. They watch a replay after midnight after a long shift on the job. Or they catch up on YouTube the next day. Or they simply don’t watch at all.

Through all the communities visited, and the many TVs in bars and restaurants, there were precious few tuned to the convention and fewer still where people were actually paying attention to what was on the screens.

The most common comment heard from people on the trip was that they weren’t watching the conventions at all.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Republican nominee Donald Trump had 32.2 million viewers for his acceptance speech in Cleveland. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton likely had a similar number of viewers for her Philadelphia speech.

Those sound like big numbers until you consider the U.S. voting eligible population is about 225 million. With that number, somewhere around 14% of the voting eligible population watched the Trump and Clinton speeches.

Even if you compare than number to the 130 million votes cast in 2012, the figure is still only about 25%.

IMG_0799Scranton’s old Lackawanna Train Station, now a hotel.

And the immediate viewership impacts are even smaller when you think about who was watching. A lot of those viewers were the Trump and Clinton faithful. They were looking to have their points of view confirmed.

On the trips through Ohio and Pennsylvania there were a handful of voters who said they were watching the conventions unsure of who they were going to vote for in November. So, the number of actual persuadable voters who watched the conventions was ultimately very small.

Maybe the most revealing quote of the trip came from 24-year-old Michael Disalvia of Philadelphia during the Democratic convention, “My girlfriend wanted to watch, so, unfortunately, I had to watch.” He was solidly behind Clinton.

Does this mean conventions don’t matter? No, they still have meaning.

They help bring the parties together and rally them. And, in the broader sense, the conventions drive news cycles and the frames that shape how people see the candidates and the election – whether the events were viewed as positive or negative, organized or disorganized.

Those discussions and critiques have been going on since the Republicans first convened in Cleveland. And the analyses will go on for the next several days after the Democrats leave Philadelphia – and beyond as comparisons are drawn between the two events.

Much has been made of how there are far more media representatives at the conventions than actual delegates, but that’s for good reason. They actually watched the events. Closely. What they saw will inform their reporting and the way they portray the campaigns. That coverage will matter.

November’s undecided persuadable voters may not have watched the conventions, but if they are going they are watching the news out of them. The most important part of the conventions will probably happen in the next few weeks.



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