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Trump’s TV Star Fades: He’s No Longer A Ratings Magnet

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Trump’s TV Star Fades: He’s No Longer A Ratings Magnet

Trump TV Ratings

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

President Donald Trump might have been cheering the New England Patriots’ historic comeback on Super Bowl Sunday, but he couldn’t have been happy about his own contribution to the day. His sit-down interview with Bill O’Reilly, which aired during Fox’s pre-Super Bowl coverage, turned out to be something of a ratings dud. And for a president who obsesses over TV ratings and uses them to validate his own identity, the Sunday interview seemed to be the latest example of his fading personal appeal.

Trump’s Q&A with O’Reilly drew approximately 12 million viewers. That’s a respectable number, but when President Barack Obama sat down for the traditional pre-Super Bowl interview in 2009, his first year in office, almost 22 million people tuned in, nearly double Trump’s audience. (And it wasn’t a matter of who was playing later; game viewership ratings in 2017 were substantially higher than those in 2009.) Even Obama’s pre-Super Bowl interviews during his second term in office easily outpaced the audience size for Trump’s recent sit-down. Obama drew 18 million viewers in 2014, 16 million in 2015, and 15 million last year.

That’s been the pattern in recent weeks, as Trump, who spent 2016 chronically boasting about his ability to spike TV news ratings, clearly falls short of the ratings successes Obama posted early in his presidency. As the least popular new president in modern American history, Trump seems to having trouble connecting with the masses.

For instance, on January 25, ABC News’ David Muir conducted the first prime-time interview with Trump following his inauguration. The show “didn’t set the Nielsen charts aflame,” drawing just 7.5 million viewers and weakly performing in the “advertiser-coveted” 18-49 demographic, as Variety reported. How many viewers watched Obama’s first prime-time interview as president? Seventeen million, or 10 million more than tuned in for Trump.

At the end of last month, when Trump turned his announcement of a Supreme Court nominee into a prime-time production, 33 million people watched. In contrast, Obama’s first prime-time event was a press conference he held on the night of February 4, 2009, when nearly 50 million Americans watched.

And then there was the size of Trump’s inauguration audience, which became a topic that drove the White House to distraction. After bragging that his swearing-in would perhaps draw the largest crowd in Washington, D.C. history, only a modest-sized audience showed up, Trump began wildly inflating the estimates. The crowd “looked like a million, million and a half,” he announced at a speech the day after inauguration, while a crowd-science expert estimated that Trump’s audience was about one-third the size of Obama’s approximately 1.8 million-person crowd in 2009.

Then — after continuing to stew over crowd size numbers throughout the day — Trump sent White House press secretary Sean Spicer to the White House press briefing room to angrily tell reporters that Trump’s swearing-in attracted “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the world.”

Trump himself tweeted about how large his inauguration TV audience was, bragging that more people watched his swearing-in than Obama’s four years earlier.

But Trump’s citation of Obama’s second inaugural was a red herring; here are the facts: Across 12 television networks, 31 million people watched Trump’s inauguration, which was 7 million fewer than watched Obama’s first inauguration. That represented a nearly 20 percent decline in viewership. (Trump also garnered fewer viewers than both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.)

Some caveats: Trump’s Fox News interview with Sean Hannity last month was a big success. So we know that within the right-wing media bubble, Trump remains a star attraction.

And the topic of Trump is still driving viewers to television news teams. The 2016 election cycle delivered a ratings bonanza for cable news, with all three networks enjoying robust audience gains: Fox was up 36 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, CNN, 77 percent, and MSNBC, 87 percent. (MSNBC posted its best year ever, and CNN its best since 1995.) And their ratings remain strong in 2017.

Note also that as it rides a wave of Trump mockery, Saturday Night Live is posting its best numbers in 22 years.

But the idea that Trump himself stands as some sort of cultural phenomenon and that Americans flock to their TVs every time he appears in front of a camera is simply not accurate. (Television news producers, please take note.)

In television-speak, viewer fatigue seems to have set in and the plot line already appears to be running thin. Keep in mind that Trump just made history by losing the popular vote tally by nearly 3 million votes and remains the least popular new president since modern-day polling was invented.

Trump’s tepid Nielsen numbers are bad news for the president since he’s utterly obsessed with television ratings. Even before entering politics, he routinely took to Twitter to tout the numbers for his show Celebrity Apprentice. (“For Trump, Everything Is a Rating,” noted a recent New York Times headline.) For years, Trump has turned to ratings as a way to both validate himself and to undercut his foes.

And yes, Trump has openly lied about ratings when they didn’t convey the storyline he preferred — when they didn’t confirm his status as a winner.

From Adweek:

Former (and now deceased) Celebrity Apprentice publicist Jim Dowd told PBS’ Frontline in 2015 that even as the show’s ratings plummeted, Trump demanded he call the TV reporters at major publications and tell them, “‘No. 1 show on television, won its time slot,’ and I’m looking at the numbers and at that point, say Season 5, for example, we were No. 72.”‘

Last year, Dowd told CNN that in his 20 years in the television business, he’d never seen anyone “who cared as deeply about ratings, positive or negative, as Donald Trump.”

On the eve of the inauguration, Bill Scher, writing in New Republic, suggested there was no better way to rattle a man “uniquely obsessed with being seen” than to tune out his swearing-in and deprive him of a big TV audience to brag about. “A mass refusal to watch Trump on TV will deprive him of big ratings, which he routinely uses to create a false impression of widespread popularity.”

There hasn’t yet been a mass refusal to watch Trump in recent weeks, but the shoulder shrug does seem to be spreading.



  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth February 12, 2017

    The more Trump insists on being an ass on the world stage the better. Let’s give him all the rope he wants, and then some.

    “…As the least popular new president in modern American history, Trump seems to having trouble connecting with the masses.” —You think so? Trump is connecting with a “mass” alright, but it gives off a noisome odor, and are usually raucous and short on good behavior.

    1. dbtheonly February 12, 2017

      Much as a cancerous tumor can be called a mass?

      1. Christinatandrews February 13, 2017

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    2. FireBaron February 13, 2017

      Teflon Donnie was a pseudo-populist bombaster during his campaign. He promised “change” but ended up appointing people who were the cause of many of the financial woes experienced by his supporters.
      His proposed Treasury Secretary avoided felony charges by ratting out lower level employees involved in the Mortgage Scam program he ran.
      His Secretary of Education has lowered the test scores of students in the schools she runs, making them less qualified for any job than the average immigrant from a 3rd World country.
      His HHS Secretary not only made a bundle on insider trading associated with the pharmaceutical industry, he plans on eliminating the ACA, without which many of the GOP “low information” voters would have no insurance.

      His Attorney General has a history of fighting against Equal Rights and Voting Rights.
      His EPA director has a history of suing the EPA to prevent enforcement of their rules.
      His NSA director’s primary assistant cannot get a security clearance, and HE is under investigation by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee for possible breach of security protocols (only 3 weeks on the job!).

      Finally – his Secretary of State has been awarded one of the highest civilian honors the Russian Republic can bestow.
      Yep, these are the swamp drainers!

  2. Sundance98 February 13, 2017

    *We shut this guy off….change the channel…every time we see his face. The same goes for Kellyanne Conway and Kaleigh McEnery (who continues to use a silver cross around her neck) when she talking about politics. Highly irregular. You don’t see folks with a Jewish Star or Star of Allah….) No, the best we can all do – is change the channel when these people come on the boob tube. Since we are all being monitored for our viewing habits……eventually, the the Networks will catch on. No need to watch their lying ways……and just get angry…..change channels…10 times if you have to. Thank God for a good remote!

    1. FT66 February 13, 2017

      Better late than never, I started changing the channel or switched off my TV set when the face of Trump showed up long time ago. That was back during the primaries when he attacked the disabled journalist. I couldn’t stomach this incedence up to now. With Kellyanne, I did the same when I realised she is there to tell lies and attacked CNN in order to save Trump. I like CNN very much and I watch them wherever I travel to.

      1. Sundance98 February 16, 2017

        *Good for you….we are now micro-managing and watch MSNBC and CNN…..however, Greta Van Sustern is rotten to the core. No likey. They also have that white haired slime (Jeffery something) bag on Anderson Cooper, the consumate Trumpster Apologist. Occaionally
        they have the Kellyanne Junior – Kaleigh McEnery with her (I’m a Catholic) Silver Cross (As a Trump pundit?)…..

        MSNBC also has some very iffy folks on in the name of fairness……but mostly they have seen the light. If you want to throw up….just go over to Fox and watch Hannity for about 30 seconds. BBC is OK sometimes, PBS tries to be fair and it many times just becomes like “kissing your sister news”. Democracy Now with Amy Goodman is great when it is great and bad when it is bad. Right now, News programming in general needs a new life.

        They are not carrying any real news….. When is the last time you saw an interview with a captured ISIS soldier? When do they cover our Dakota Pipeline Indians….except on Democracy Now? What about the overseas reactions (interviews) about Trump? Not so much! What about the interviews with Kurdish Soldiers about what the Ruskies are up to in Iran, Iraq and Turkey?

        1. FT66 February 17, 2017

          That grey-haired-man Anderson Cooper brings on his 360 show his name is JEFFREY LORD. This guy makes me to throw up watching him defending nonsense of Trump all the time. This old guy has come up these days with a fake smile. Soon I will stop watching the show because of him.

    2. Budjob February 24, 2017

      I do the samething.If there is an article in the newspaper about him,i refuse to read it.If they start broadcasting a news story about him,I shut it off.And,I have yet to refer to him with the title in front of his name!

  3. rkoenn February 13, 2017

    You want to know one thing I don’t understand too well. I was taught honesty by both my parents is very important in your life and to your integrity. I guess, as we know far too well, money trumps that in many people’s lives. I am certain Spicer, Conway, and all the other people who work for Trump must just throw integrity to the winds over greed. It is so obvious he lies every day and jumps up on the podium to lie, even about inconsequential things like the size of his crowds or his hands. This is absolutely the most pathetic administration in the history of this country and the fact that even the number of people who voted for him, less than for Clinton whether he likes it or not, shows the sorry state of our voting public. Impeachment for lying, far bigger lies than Clinton’s lying about sex, is the only recourse.

  4. Phil Johnson February 13, 2017

    And it goes without saying much more than this: as soon as the Fourth Estate quits covering the Orange Cheshire Cat President like a wet blanket, smothering other newsworthy events that we all should be thinking about, the hollowed-out Trump tinker’s wagon will collapse. I know that’s impossible for some people, but it sure is something to think about.

    Last September, I sent this post:

    9 11 Trump shell game

    More to the point, the man has no staying power beyond his eternal ability to shell-game his way to effervescent fame and fortune. He is in this for the thrill of the hunt; once he bags his trophy, he moves on to another target. Here’s why:

    “You Don’t Always Get What You Wished For” is played at the conclusion of every Trump rally. Why?

    He’s red-flagging his real intent in life and history repeats itself.

    Said the T-dog chasing the Volkswagen: “For me, you see, the important thing is the getting . . . not the having.” (Trump: “Surviving at the Top”, p. 6, Trump/Leerhsen (1990).

    So, 25 years later, he is chasing the POTUS prize. And, then what? Does anyone think this attention-deficit-candidate is fit for a four-year stint now with that philosophy?

    Critics, read the book. It’s all there. The man is a charlatan and will abandon this ship of state when he sees the end coming. Hopefully, it will be before he’s elected. Because, if he gets in, he won’t have a clue what to do. Nor the desire to learn. It’s just
    not in his DNA, folks.

    God help us all if he wins.

    aures lupi

  5. aboonaj February 13, 2017

    Only if he begins, for the sake of the ratings, to intentionally market his mental imbalance will tRump have a chance at meeting Obama’s TV popularity!

  6. Dan S February 13, 2017

    Everytime that idiot shows his ugly mug I’ll either change the channel or turn it off. If I don’t do so I’ll slowly but surely lose my mind ????

  7. Thomas Martin February 14, 2017

    The “normalization” of Trump and his followers is rapidly coming to and end. Their infatuation with Dr. Orange was sickening.

  8. Budjob February 24, 2017

    The one big reason that decent Americans are finding themselves involved in this obscene mess,is,the American electorate are a lot of semi-literate individuals.They simply DO NOT read enough! Consequently,they continually vote against their own best interests!


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