Democrats continue to top Republicans in convention ratings

The Democrats edged the Republicans in the convention ratings race again on Wednesday.

Nielsen data showed 24.4 million viewers watched on the ad-supported broadcast and cable networks from 10 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. Eastern time on the night featuring an address by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, and President Obama. About 2.8 million also watched on PBS.

The Republicans averaged 23.4 million in the 10 p.m. ET hour on the third day of their convention last Wednesday, with an additional 1.79 million watching on PBS.

The Democrats have drawn larger audiences than the Republicans on each night of their convention so far, despite GOP nominee Donald Trump’s ability to draw strong TV ratings throughout the campaign season.

Hillary Clinton will give her acceptance speech Thursday as she becomes the first woman to receive the presidential nomination of a major party. Trump’s acceptance speech on July 21 had an average of 32.2 million viewers across eight ad-supported networks and another 2.8 million on PBS.

Even if Clinton does top Trump’s number, convention ratings have no predictive value for the presidential election. A 2012 analysis by Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, showed the political party with a higher-rated convention lost the White House in seven out of the last 14 presidential elections.

Sabato said viewing of past conventions was more tied to their news value, rather than partisan cheerleading.

“People tune in for the show,” Sabato told the Los Angeles Times. “If one party has better speakers or performers, or the TV alternatives are less attractive, that party will win the summer audience battle. But the war itself must be won in the fall.”

While Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey lost the presidency in 1968, the civil unrest in the party’s convention city of Chicago made for compelling TV — and higher ratings over the Republicans, who peacefully nominated Richard Nixon.

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The Republicans had more convention-viewers in 1976 as President Ford went into the event without having secured the nomination during the primary season against challenger Ronald Reagan. Ford won enough delegates at the convention, but was defeated that fall by Jimmy Carter.

Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge against Carter created drama for the 1980 Democratic convention, which topped the audience levels for the GOP gathering. Yet Carter failed in his reelection bid to Reagan.

The most recent example is 2008, when Sarah Palin lifted viewer interest in the Republican convention after she was named as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running mate in the party’s unsuccessful bid against Obama.

This year, the Republicans’ convention lacked star power outside of Trump, who did not speak until the final night. None of the major Republican Party stalwarts appeared in the featured hours, which were largely filled with speeches by Trump’s family members.

The Democrats’ convention opened with controversy this year as the leak of Democratic National Committee e-mails dominated the TV news cycle leading into the event. The convention’s speakers in the featured 10 p.m. ET hour this week included First Lady Michelle Obama, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was Hillary Clinton’s rival for the nomination, and the nominee’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.

CNN continued to be the top-rated network for Democratic convention coverage with 6.17 million viewers from 10 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. ET, the third night in a row the cable news network has led the competition.

MSNBC was second with 4.92 million viewers, followed by NBC (4.15 million), ABC (3.54 million), CBS (2.85 million), and Fox News (2.39 million).

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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