ABC faced backlash this week after casting former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.” But that outrage might actually spice up the dancing competition’s dwindling ratings — particularly in Trump Country.
“Dancing with the Stars” has faced a relatively alarming decline in ratings over the past two cycles, falling 32% among adults 18-49 last season — from an average of 1.37 in 2017 to 0.93 in 2018 season. The show was in need of a shot in the arm, and the attention over Spicer’s attachment could attract more of the show’s biggest fans.
That’s because, according to Nielsen data obtained by Variety, the region of the country in which “Dancing with the Stars” performs strongest also happens to be one that is a reliable geographic stronghold for Spicer’s former employer: Red-state America.
Last season, “Dancing with the Stars” — which finished airing in Nov. 2018 — posted its best figures in the East Central territory of the United States with a 126 index score (a score of 100 represents an average concentration of viewership) and a 1.20 rating in the 18-49 demographic. Nielsen defines that region as containing Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan — all of which are states that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
The next highest index score by region was the Northeast (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia), with a 104 and a 0.99 rating, while the region that scored the lowest was the Pacific (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington), with a score of 78 and an average rating of 0.74.
Nielsen data also shows that “Dancing with the Stars” registers a stronger performance in suburban and rural counties, and a weaker one in urban counties.
Season 27 performed strongest in category B counties (counties with a population over 150,000) with a 1.01 average 18-49 rating and a 106 index score. Next came the category C and D counties (counties which have a population of over 40,000 or don’t fall under any of the other categories), where the show scored a 0.97 average rating and a 103 index score. Behind all of them were the category A counties (located in the 25 largest U.S. cities), with a 0.90 rating and a below average 94 index score.
The show also does far better with white viewers than it does with African American viewers. Last year, “Dancing with the Stars” scored a 0.66 average 18-49 rating and a 69 index score in homes deemed by Nielsen to have an African American head of household. Conversely, in homes which Nielsen deemed to have a white head of household, the show scored a 1.10 rating and a 115 index score. For comparison, in the 2016 election, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the black vote by a substantial 80 points (88% to 8%), according to the Pew Research Center.
Of the 10 markets around the country in which “Dancing with the Stars” performed best last season, eight are located in states that voted for Trump in the last election. The market in which “Dancing with the Stars” performed strongest last season was West Palm Beach, Fla., which coincidentally is the market that contains Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.
“Dancing with the Stars'” conservative fanbase might also explain why Spicer is just the latest in a long line of right-wing and Republican contestants, including Tucker Carlson, Tom DeLay and Rick Perry.
Casting Spicer has boosted the amount of attention being paid to the show and may well give “Dancing with the Stars” an initial ratings jolt thanks to audience curiosity in how the former Trump spokesperson performs. However, it remains to be seen if the parts of the country and demos that have traditionally watched the show will be driven to tune in in greater numbers to see a man who lasted only six months in the Trump administration dance the cha-cha-cha.