Obama or McCain? Election Night TV Viewing Likely To Be Strong

Categories: TV Ratings Reference

Written By

November 4th, 2008

Regardless of who wins the election (and please let it end today) TV ratings for the news broadcasts covering the event are likely to be robust. Unlike many long term trends of TV watching (that you can examine in our Reference category), TV ratings for Presidential election nights have shown an upward trend over the last 44 years. The general election cycle pattern has been the significant drops for TV ratings during elections where a sitting President is up for re-election compared to the election before ('72 vs. '68, '84 vs. '80, '96 vs. '92, and '04 vs. '00). The notable exception to that was 1992 which saw a ratings spike as Bill Clinton defeated George HW Bush during his re-election attempt.

With the significant TV ratings increases in the debates this election cycle, it's easy to predict record TV ratings tonight, any less than 45 million aggregate households would be a big surprise to me. And while I think news websites have improved significantly, an election is still something I think most Americans want to watch on television.

So it's easy to project the real winner tonight being TV ratings of all kinds. As to predicting the winner of the election itself? It's all in the Freshness.

Full Election Night TV Ratings Data, 1960-2004:

Election Night Networks Combined Rating Combined Households
1960 ABC, CBS, NBC 65.7 29.796
1964 ABC, CBS, NBC 55.7 29.311
1968 ABC, CBS, NBC 58.5 34.076
1972 ABC, CBS, NBC 45.4 29.419
1976 ABC, CBS, NBC 51.6 36.739
1980 ABC, CBS, NBC 46.4 37.074
1984 ABC, CBS, NBC 35.9 30.479
1988 ABC, CBS, NBC 25.9 23.414
1992 ABC, CBS, NBC 39.8 36.900
1996 ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN 25.8 24.940
2000 ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN, FOXNC, MSNBC 40.2 40.914
2004 ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOXNC, MSNBC 34.5 37.856

Source: NIELSEN MEDIA RESEARCH; Nielsen Tunes into Politics 1992, NTI Television Audience, 1960 and 1964 NTI Pocketpieces.

© 2015 Tribune Digital Ventures