Vast majority of Americans tuned out to televised impeachment hearings
There are about 330 million Americans. According to the ratings, nearly 320 million of them didn’t watch the House impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
Despite television networks’ fervent belief that the country should have been paying attention, with gavel-to-gavel coverage on all of the cable news stations and most of the broadcast networks, the hearings drew paltry ratings, as viewers voted with their eyes.
“It’s on constantly, but I’m not paying any attention to it,” Emily Brown, a waitress at Mandy’s, a popular breakfast and lunch spot near New Orleans, said last week.
In Omaha, Nebraska, bartenders told The Washington Times that their televisions were tuned to sports and no patrons asked to change the channel.
The spectacle drew yawns as well on the city’s streets.
“I’m not really watching it during the day. I’ll look online at night just to see what happened,” Jeremy, a 47-year-old Omaha dog groomer, said as he played with an excited boxer.
Most Americans appeared to follow the same strategy: turning to Twitter or newscasts to find out what happened.
The morning session on Nov. 19 averaged 11.4 million viewers across the three big cable news stations and ABC, CBS and NBC. The afternoon session averaged 13 million viewers.
Those were similar to the 12.7 million viewers on average during the Nov. 15 hearings, down from the 13.1 million posted Nov. 13, the first day of public hearings.
It was far from the “huge” audiences Reuters reported that the networks expected to tune in, but it also wasn’t the “way down” ratings that Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, estimated during a hearing.
By the middle of last week, attrition had begun.
As the clock struck noon Wednesday in Washington — perhaps the most interested potential audience — the local ABC affiliate ditched impeachment coverage and aired its regular newscast. The Fox station had a daytime talk show.
NBC and CBS, along with the cable news stations, were still covering the impeachment hearings.
Those who did tune in heard a confusing day of testimony.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said he figured there was a quid pro quo tying U.S. military assistance to a Ukrainian agreement to conduct investigations that Mr. Trump requested. But Mr. Sondland also said he never heard anyone explicitly tell him one was contingent on the other — and indeed Mr. Trump explicitly told him there was no quid pro quo.
Both sides emerged from the hearing to say their argument had been made.
According to oddsmakers, Democrats got the best of the hearings.
SportsBettingDime.com said the odds Nov. 19 stood at -210 for the pro-impeachment side, which works out to a 67.7% probability of impeachment. A month ago, the probability was less than 50%, according to the site.
PredictIt, an online market that offers users a chance to bet on outcomes, said Nov. 19 was its most active day of trading on the impeachment question since Oct. 5.
The stock markets, however, were not fazed by the impeachment spectacle. The Dow Jones Industrial Average set records during the hearings.
Perhaps most striking is Mr. Trump’s approval rating, which stands at 44% in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls. That is virtually unchanged, with only a point or two of variation, since his State of the Union address in February — a remarkably consistent record.
Likewise, support for impeachment remains largely unchanged since the beginning of public hearings a week ago. Some surveys even show a drop in support.
It’s not that voters don’t believe the case against Mr. Trump, according to polls. It’s that they aren’t sure he is different from any other Washington politician.
“It’s probably something that most politicians do at some point. There’s a lot of bartering,” said Rick Gardner, a bartender in Greenville, South Carolina. “That’s sort of the game of politics.”
Mr. Gardner, 46, said he grew up a Republican but is torn about his views of Mr. Trump. He did, however, pay attention to the hearings.
“Yeah, I watch it, trying to figure out exactly what he’s trying to be impeached for, and is it such a crime he needs to be impeached,” Mr. Gardner said. “There seems to be some basis to it, that’s for sure.”
In Atlanta, where Democrats held their presidential primary debate last week, there was interest in the inquiry. The hearings played at a pizza spot in East Point.
Dan Halback, 83, heading into the bar to play pinochle with fellow retirees and military veterans, said he had been flipping the TV channel back and forth between “old Westerns” and the impeachment hearings — though he acknowledged his doctor told him to keep viewing to a minimum.
“I think the facts right now show the president did something he shouldn’t have done,” he said. “Whether it rises to the level of impeachment, I don’t know, but what he did is wrong.”
The bartender at the tavern next door, Andrew Dean, 40, said he was excited about impeachment proceedings and thought Mr. Trump should have been tossed out of office a long time ago. But he said it was hard to gauge interest in the hearings and he did not have any patrons ask for the TV to be tuned to them.