While most of political America has by now offered their thoughts about who won the June 13 Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, I’m quite certain about the loser: me.
That’s right, I’m the big loser because I spent two hours of my time — hours that I’ll never get back — watching a meaningless debate rather than baseball (though I was able to follow the evening’s games on my computer).
I try to avoid watching these debates whenever possible and fully intended to miss this one, too. But I felt guilty because I missed the first Republican presidential debate (on Fox) and people seem to assume that I’ve watched every televised debate, no matter how few candidates participate or how meaningless the event.
Early (pre-Labor Day) presidential debates are only slightly more important than presidential straw polls taken around this time of year, and they are totally meaningless.
Yet, newspapers report the results and observers comment on them. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) won another straw poll? Yawn. It’s about as newsworthy as a tree falling in the woods if nobody is around to see it. It simply has no effect on anyone or anything.
These early debates, including the June CNN/WMUR event, could have been newsworthy, I suppose, if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had said the U.S. should attack China or if former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had proposed repealing the Bill of Rights. But, alas, no such luck; just the usual claptrap about taxes, spending and abortion.
Obviously, televised debates can have an effect if something interesting happens during them, or if viewers are trying to make a decision about their votes.
CNN got a decent viewership for the debate — decent as long as you compare the debate with other early meaningless debates.
The cable network won the 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours that night, over-performing its usually less-than-scintillating ratings. But compared to network programming, the debate was a drop in the bucket.
While CNN drew 2.8 million views during the first hour of the debate, ABC’s “The Bachelorette” drew more than 7.8 million, game six of the NHL Stanley Cup finals on NBC drew 6.6 million, and reruns of “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS (admittedly, one of the better shows on television) drew 4.5 million at 8 p.m. and 5.5 million at 8:30 p.m.
CNN drew almost 3.5 million viewers during the debate’s second hour, but that put it behind all of the major networks, including Fox’s “MasterChef” (5 million). It did beat a repeat of “Gossip Girl” on the CW network.
In contrast, presidential debates that take place during the six weeks before an election do matter, and they have generally drawn 35 million to 70 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.