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Trump loves to talk about ratings, but his convention speech got beat by John McCain

Donald Trump's convention speech didn't attract as many viewers as John McCain's in 2008.
Donald Trump's convention speech didn't attract as many viewers as John McCain's in 2008.
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Donald Trump has spent much of his presidential campaign touting his ability to drive ratings — but his speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday didn’t quite deliver.

Well, not exactly big TV ratings:

Trump drew 32.2 million viewers to watch the final night of the RNC. That falls well behind the 38.9 million who watched John McCain accept the Republican nomination in 2008 — and slightly ahead of the 30.3 million who tuned in for Mitt Romney’s 2012 address.

It is true that Trump drew significant viewership to the Republican debates. But in an environment where he wasn’t sparring with other candidates — one where it was just Trump, in the limelight — the real estate developer didn’t seem to be much of a draw.

Trump’s acceptance speech got fewer viewers than McCain’s — but more than Romney’s

Chart showing Trump's TV ratings for primary debate and convention performance

It’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison to the 2012 or 2008 Republican National Convention because both first nights were canceled due to hurricanes, but as you can see from the chart above, viewership for this year’s RNC was relatively similar to 2012’s.

But even Trump’s much-anticipated acceptance speech on Thursday didn’t draw in that many more viewers, and it certainly didn’t break any records.

Trump used to draw ratings — when he was fighting with other Republicans

The very first Republican debate attracted a record-breaking 24 million viewers, which, according to Nielsen, makes it the highest-rated primary debate in television history.

Chart showing Trump's TV ratings for primary debate and convention performance

Granted, interest in the 12 scheduled Republican debates substantially dropped with time, despite Trump’s outsized influence. But when you compare the numbers to 2012 viewership, there’s no denying Trump had a role in driving the ratings. The most-watched primary debate in 2012 only attracted 7.6 million viewers. Compare that with the worst night for viewership in 2016, January 11 — it still managed to attract 11.1 million viewers, nearly 3 million more than the best night in 2012.

Plus, the Republican primary debates reached significantly more viewers than the Democratic primary debates, and as my colleague Alvin Chang noted, part of that was due to scheduling. The Democratic National Committee scheduled debates on nights with historically low viewership, including two on a Saturday. The most-watched Democratic debate in 2016 was the first debate, on October 3, which attracted 15.8 million viewers.

So what does this mean going forward? Are people losing interest in watching Trump altogether? Or is it rather that they prefer to watch Trump in a debate setting? Guess we’ll have to wait until the first general election debate on September 26 for the answer.