Republican convention draws 17 million TV viewers, down 26% from 2016

Nikki Haley speaks during the Republican National Convention on Monday.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks Monday during the Republican National Convention.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

The first night of the Republican National Convention averaged 17 million viewers on Monday, a sharp drop of 26% from 2016.

The audience figure from Nielsen was also below the opening night of last week’s Democratic National Convention, which averaged 19.7 million viewers . The audience for the Democrats on the first night of their convention was down about 24% from 2016.

Fox News was the most watched channel for coverage between 10 and 11 p.m. Eastern, with an average of 7.1 million viewers, followed by CNN (2 million), ABC (1.97 million), NBC (1.7 million), MSNBC (1.6 million) and CBS (1.5 million).


Late-night TV host Stephen Colbert was among many who had a bewildered reaction to “vengeful banshee” Kimberly Guilfoyle’s RNC remarks on Monday.

For the conservative-leaning Fox News, it was the largest audience for opening night convention coverage ever for a cable news network.

Fox News — regularly the prime-time destination for Trump fans who tune in to see the president’s chief media supporter Sean Hannity — routinely leads in the ratings during Republican convention weeks.

“Hannity,” which aired at 9 p.m. Eastern, averaged 6.8 million viewers, the second largest audience ever for the program.

Coverage was also carried on PBS, Fox Business Network, CNN en Español, Newsmax and Newsy.

The hour featured speeches by former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

The decline from 2016, when Trump was first nominated, is comparable to what the Democratic convention experienced last week. The cancellation of most live events at the convention sites changed the nature of the events to a series of virtual speeches.

Most politicians, even if they have the legal right to play a song at a rally, will not risk the PR backlash of an artist objecting. Not President Trump.

The drop can also be attributed to the continued decline in television usage especially among viewers younger than 50.

The Democratic National Committee said there was an increase in the number of people watching convention events on streaming platforms — with 35 million live video streams across four nights. The streaming audience for the Republican convention is expected to rise over 2016 levels as well.

The ratings for cable news coverage reflected the political bent of the channels’ prime-time viewers. MSNBC, with its lineup of progressive opinion hosts who support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, was the most-watched network for Democratic National Convention coverage last week.