Cable News Ratings Begin to Suffer Trump Slump

Cable News Trump Slump
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

His White House tenure may be over, but Donald Trump is sorely missed by cable news networks.

VIP has previously covered the initial ratings decline Fox News, MSNBC and, most of all, CNN, saw in President Biden’s first week, as the nonstop controversies of the previous administration slowed down.

Our prediction that audiences would perk up for President Trump’s second impeachment trial proved correct. But in the weeks after the trial ended, audiences for CNN have plummeted; MSNBC is seeing about half CNN’s drop, while Fox News is down single digits. While the left-leaning networks may be losing steam without the ability to feed off of Trump being in office, conservative audiences have found new focal points for their concerns.

VIP took our analysis back to the first week of December as a base point for comparisons. This enabled us to avoid setting a baseline distorted by the massive news-cycle surges around the election and the riot in January, and to show the viewership trend over a three-month period.

Beginning first with total audience, it’s clear that CNN is the network that misses Trump the most. Trump-bashing tirades lack their zip with their protagonist taking on a much lower profile post-election, with “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon” and “Anderson Cooper 360” seeing their average audience in the first week of March one-third lower than the first week of December.

CNN isn’t the only network to see declines, but they are the most pronounced. MSNBC’s drops are around half of what CNN saw, with Chris Hayes (-16.7%) and Lawrence O’Donnell (-17.6%) seeing steeper declines than total primetime news leader Rachel Maddow (-9.1%).

Fox News has seen the smallest audience declines over the period, but it is interesting to note that Sean Hannity, who may have leaned more on his association to Trump than the others, has seen the greatest drops among Fox News’ primetime lineup, down by double digits (-11.9%) versus “The Ingraham Angle” (-9.2%) and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (-4.8%, the smallest decline seen across all primetime news titles).

Comparing shows airing at 8 p.m. across the major news channels sees “Tucker Carlson Tonight” with a slight (-5%) slump since Trump left office, compared with -18.3% for MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” and -33.3% for “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN.

What stands out when analyzing the 9 p.m. primetime shows is the extent of the decline that CNN and MSNBC saw once the Trump impeachment trial was over. CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” fell by -31.3% versus a gain of 7.7% during impeachment week and continued to sink after. It was the same story for MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” which grew by 10.1% during the impeachment but lost more than that (-22.3%) once the trial was over.

CNN also saw three of the four shows with the greatest audience declines among the key 25-54 demo. In fairness, only “Tucker Carlson Tonight” didn’t see double-digit declines, but the steep drops across all three CNN titles will be of concern.

In the first week of December, Anderson Cooper and Tucker Carlson were locked in a battle for 25-54 dominance, with Cooper pulling clear after the disgraceful scenes of the D.C. riot in early January. Once Trump left office, so did Anderson Cooper’s audience, impeachment aside, and the show entered March trailing Carlson.

The same pattern played out with “Cuomo Prime Time” on CNN, only the ratings battle was with MSNBC, not Fox News. The first week of March saw Cuomo behind both “Hannity” and the “Rachel Maddow Show,” a far cry from the heady days of January.

Unfortunately for the media, there is no easy fix. The next opportunity for Trump to dominate the headlines will be if he declares as a candidate for the 2024 elections in 2023, with over two years to go until that potential milestone. In the meantime, the left-leaning networks will have to rely on politicians making the occasional gaffe and just get used to the post-Trump slump.