Friday, October 15, 2004

The Numbers Game

Few, even on the right, disagree with the fact that the first debate was a decisive victory for Kerry. It was also duly noted that viewership for that debate reached unprecedented levels: 62.5 million viewers.

While the second and third debates did not draw as many viewers, 46.8 and 51.2 million viewers respectively, those two numbers still represented substantial increases over their 2000 counterparts. For example, the final debate in 2000 only snared 37.7 million viewers, 13.5 million fewer than the 2004 version.

This means that more people saw Bush at his worst, than tuned in for the subsequent performances when he put on a better show. Not only will those impressions from the first debate be hard to shake, there is also the logistical reality that millions did not stick around for rounds two and three (even though more did this year than in prior elections).

Viewership for the vice presidential debate was a respectable 43.6 million, an increase of 14 million over the 29 million that watched the vice presidential debate between Cheney and Lieberman in 2000.

The heightened levels of interest (roughly 40% more viewers across the board for each debate), is a testament to the fact that more Americans are paying attention this election cycle than in years past. This will translate into a substantially higher turnout on election day, which is one of the reasons that the polls have not been able to correctly gauge the support for John Kerry.

High turnout, historically speaking, has always favored Democratic candidates, and this year is no exception. Voter registration is trough the roof, as many state election committees have been inundated with new applications - so much so that some have had to resort to hiring temporary workers to process the forms. A large number of the new registrants are from the 18-25 demographic, a group that skew heavily in favor of Kerry, and which is all but ignored in polls of likely voters since most have never voted before. This bodes well for Kerry/Edwards.

As further evidence of how this political contest has recaptured America's attention, I noted in a
prior post that in the New York City area, 2.7 million viewers watched the vice presidential debate compared to 1.5 million who watched the Yankee playoff game against Minnesota which was aired on the same night in the same time slot. For New York City's rabid Yankee fans, that says a lot.

Surely this feat would not be repeated on Wednesday night, though, because that debate conflicted with a contest between the Yanks and their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox. There is no way that the third presidential debate could beat out a Yankee/Red Sox clash in New York City, especially considering that the country must have had some type of debate fatigue having already sat through three of the events.

But wait...that is exactly what happened. 3.5 million viewers in the New York City area watched the debate, while 2.7 million opted for the baseball game instead, according to Nielsen ratings.

While the team from Massachusetts got beaten a second time in as many nights, the fact that the debate beat out such a popular event bore a glimmer of hope for the Senator from the same state. America is paying attention, and that favors the Democrats - even if it won't reverse the curse of a certain baseball icon.

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