In mid to late March and early April, Tucker Carlson Tonight was the most watched cable news show, with an average total audience of around 3 million viewers per week. It was a rebound from earlier this year when Fox saw a January slump, largely due to Trump supporters who opted out after the network became the first network Arizona called for Joe Biden. At this point, Fox viewership seemed to be fragmenting, and some loyal Fox viewers switched to even more frayed conservative competitors Newsmax and One America News Network (OANN).
If the new Nielsen ratings apply, Fox could regain the ground it seemed to lose for a few months after the November elections. Carlson’s new, improved, and overt right-hand turn – dog whistles are damned – appears to be part of that recovery effort. But it also appears to be a direction born out of desperation as the network tries to reconnect disappointed Trumpers who have at least temporarily fled.
Civiqs has been polling Fox News viewer numbers at the bottom of every poll for several years, and while Fox once dominated conservative radio waves, the outlet doesn’t seem nearly as powerful on those trend lines. It’s important to note that the Civiqs data measures something different than Nielsen, an electronic measure of people’s actual behavior. Civiqs, on the other hand, is a measure of self-reporting – how often respondents say they watch Fox News. And in terms of what people are saying about their viewers, Fox’s star has fallen in recent years.
For example, in 2019, around a fifth to a quarter of Civiq respondents said they watched Fox News “often”. More recently, increased traction from right-wing competitors like Newsmax and OANN has reduced the number of respondents who say they visit Fox News “often” to single digits.
Here is multiple dates Points from 2019before Civiqs began polling Newsmax and OANN audience numbers.
DO YOU SEE FOX NEWS? March 2019 August 2019 Frequently 19% 22% Occasionally 28% 28% I don’t see a fox 53% 51%
More recently, however, Fox’s net worth has declined in this self-reporting metric. in the October 2020Before voting, 15% of respondents said they saw Fox frequently, 31% said occasionally, and 54% said never. After the elections in December 2020, however, Civiqs also asked the viewer question about Newsmax and OANN. Here is the Results from the three branches last December.
ARE YOU WATCHING THE FOLLOWING OUTLET? (DECEMBER 2020) Fox Newsmax Oann frequently 8% 11% 10% occasionally 29% 17% 13% I don’t watch 64% 72% 76%
The last Civiqs poll Last week saw continued deflation in Fox viewership in line with late last year, while Newsmax and OANN viewership fell slightly.
Are you watching the following outlet? (April 2020) FOX NEWSMAX OANN FREQUENTLY 9% 8% 6% Occasionally 24% 16% 12% I don’t watch 67% 76% 82%
By comparison, the proportion of Civiqs respondents who have reported seeing MSNBC has remained relatively constant over the past few years. In August 2019, 14% of respondents said they were frequent viewers of the liberal outlet, 27% said they were occasional viewers, and 59% said they didn’t watch at all. Last week, 13% said they were frequent MSNBC viewers, 23% said they were casual viewers, and 64% said they weren’t watching at all. The modest drop in engagement reported by MSNBC is in line with an overall drop in engagement seen by many political media outlets after a few hectic months, including the November election, Georgia January run-off and the Donald Trump-inspired horrific Capitol uprising have probably seen.
Overall, however, the most noticeable change in the Civiqs data is that Fox slipped around 20% of respondents in 2019, saying they watched the point of sale “frequently” for single digits that now said the same thing. Additionally, Civiqs saw a double-digit increase in respondents who said they didn’t see Fox at all, from 50 years ago to more recently in the mid-60s. Both trends suggest that the once muscular strength of the outlet on the right has withered. In this context, Fox’s embrace by Carlson’s Vitriol hydrant seems to be a function of desperation rather than anything.
In a way, the Civiqs data raises more questions than it answers: Are people actually watching Fox but saying they aren’t? Or if they really saw it in the past, but now only occasionally, the question is: why?
What we do know, however, is that Fox is apparently trying to get involved on the edge of the Republican base. If network managers were happy with their ratings, engagement, and viewership, they wouldn’t change anything. The best way to keep getting results you like is to do the same – unless you don’t like the results you are getting. In January, Fox certainly didn’t like the results it got.
Finally, Fox’s lunge to the right appears to be following a similar trend across almost all of the political right. After a multi-day window after Jan 6, when the GOP leaders briefly flirted with cutting off Trump, they instead viewed him and his complaints policy as the essence of their political being and the key to their future. The more Trump pulls out of the public eye, the more Republican lawmakers, news outlets, and experts turn to him to keep his cultists busy. The real question for the Democrats is whether the GOP is adding more Trumpers to its base or simply changing the composition of its base to Trumpy, as it alienates a swath of conservative voters who no longer recognize the Republican Party.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include Fox News’ Nielsen ratings for the past few months. An earlier version of the article focused more closely on the Civiqs data without a discussion of the Nielsen ratings.