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President Trump’s acceptance speech draws 23.8 million TV viewers, trailing the audience for Biden

President  Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive on the South Lawn of the White House
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive on the South Lawn of the White House for the fourth day of the Republican National Convention.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The final night of the Republican convention, which featured President Trump’s acceptance speech from the White House South Lawn, had an average audience of 23.8 million viewers Thursday, putting it slightly behind the TV turnout for his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

The figure from Nielsen is 3% lower than Biden’s total of 24.6 million viewers Aug. 20.

Trump’s total is also well below the 35 million TV viewers who watched him accept his party’s nomination in 2016 and falls short of the acceptance speeches of previous Republican nominees John McCain (38.9 million viewers in 2008), Mitt Romney (30.3 million viewers in 2012) and George W. Bush (27.6 million in 2004).

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TV viewing for both 2020 conventions is down from four years ago, as many viewers are likely to have watched some portion of the event through online streaming platforms, which are not included in the Nielsen ratings.

Over four nights, the Republican National Convention averaged 19.4 million viewers — down 21% from 2016 — compared with 21.6 million for the Democratic National Convention, which was down 16% from four years ago.

The ratings of conventions are not indicative of how a presidential candidate fares in the November election. The party with the larger audience has won in November seven times out of 15 races going back to 1960. Hillary Clinton had more viewers for her convention than Trump in 2016.

But the 2020 results could subdue any Twitter boasting by Trump, who is often fixated on TV ratings.

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Trump’s audience was probably diminished by the 70-minute length of his address, which ended after 11:30 p.m. Eastern. The number of people watching television typically declines as the night goes on.

TV commentators noted the duration of Trump’s speech, but it was actually shorter than his 2016 address, which clocked in at 75 minutes.

Fox News was the most-watched channel for coverage between 10 and 11:45 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, with an average of 9.2 million viewers, followed by ABC (2.6 million), NBC (2.3 million), CNN (2.2 million), MSNBC (1.85 million), CBS (1.78 million), Fox Business Network (1.2 million), Univision (927,000), Telemundo (804,000) and CNN en Español (53,000). Coverage was also carried on PBS, Newsmax and Newsy, which are included in the total.

President Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the RNC
President Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
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Fox News had the dominant share of viewers throughout the week with its coverage led by anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. Though the network’s popular conservative opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity appeared in prime time during the week, they were not part of the main hour of convention coverage covered by all of the networks.

Though Fox News is a destination for viewers looking for talking heads that support the Trump White House, the network did not allow any of its paid contributors to participate in the convention proceedings. CNN and MSNBC made exceptions for their contributors during the Democratic convention.

The network’s audience Thursday was the largest ever for prime-time cable coverage of a political convention.


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