Presidential elections tend to mean improvements in ratings for “Saturday Night Live.” The 2016 contest was no exception. But now that it’s over and a new president is in office, what will it mean for the show’s numbers?
If recent history is a guide, probably not a whole lot. President Trump may not be a fan of the show, but pre- and post-election ratings for “SNL” in the past five presidential years don’t often show a dramatic change following election day.
The one exception was in 2008-09. In the runup to the election, Tina Fey’s impression of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin became a cultural phenomenon, fueling big ratings for “SNL.” The remainder of the season fell off by about 25 percent.
In other election years, however, there hasn’t been a huge change in “SNL’s” ratings (either up or down) before or after the election. Take a look:
|18-49 rating||Viewers (millions)|
|2000-01||4.3 (4 episodes)||4.7 (16 episodes)||9%||7.87||9.15||16%|
|2004-05||3.7 (4 episodes)||3.5 (16 epiodes)||-5%||7.71||7.40||-4%|
|2008-09||4.7 (7 episodes)||3.5 (15 episodes)||-25%||11.36||8.15||-28%|
|2012-13||3.3 (5 episodes)||3.4 (15 episodes)||3%||8.26||8.33||1%|
|2016-17*||2.3 (5 episodes)||2.2 (6 episodes)||-4%||7.87||7.01||-11%|
*201t6-17 ratings are live + same-day; other seasons are Live + 7.
Fueled at least in part by the election, “Saturday Night Live” has enjoyed improved ratings in 2016-17 vs. last season. The show’s 18-49 rating through 11 episodes is up 10 percent vs. the same time last season (2.2 vs. 2.0), and viewership is up 14 percent (7.4 million vs. 6.47 million).
Add in a week of DVR and on demand viewing and the ratings bump vs. 2015-16 increases to 28 percent (2.8 to 3.6) in the 18-49 demographic and 27 percent (8.49 million to 10.81 million) in viewers.
The ratings growth hasn’t been concentrated in the pre-election episodes either. As you can see in the chart above, “SNL” is pretty consistent pre- and post-election this season, and both splits are above the comparable weeks last year. In 2015-16 the first five episodes of the season (including one hosted by then-candidate Trump) averaged a 1.9 in adults 18-49 vs. 2.3 this season. Episodes 6-11 last season averaged a 2.1 (and included the show’s season high) vs. 2.2 this year.
Election year or not, ratings for “SNL” tend to wax and wane depending largely a given week’s host or musical guest and, to an extent, the events of the week leading up to the show.
This season, for instance, the post-election episode hosted by Dave Chappelle is the high mark with a 3.2 rating in adults 18-49 (live + same-day) and 8.69 million viewers. The season low thus far is a 1.7 and 6.24 million viewers for the Jan. 14 episode hosted by Felicity Jones. Preliminary numbers for Jan. 21, with Aziz Ansari as host, were the best since the Chappelle episode, so it’s likely to bump the average up a little.
Those ebbs and flows will likely repeat for the remainder of the season. Alec Baldwin, who’s set to host Feb. 11 and has been doing the show’s Trump impression, will probably bring a ratings bump. An A-list musical guest later in the season could do the same. Indie artists and lesser-known hosts tend to bring smaller Nielsen numbers. Regardless of the political climate, that pattern isn’t likely to change.