American apathy: Weak ratings for Jan. 6 hearings reveal voter priorities

The Jan. 6 hearings enter their third week on Capitol Hill this week. Is the American public paying attention? 

Looking at the numbers, the answer appears to be mostly no. Opening night in primetime did attract nearly 20 million viewers, which some in the media touted as a real indicator that these hearings were resonating with voters. But in context, nearly 20 million across a dozen networks isn’t all that great. 

For example, the evening newscasts on ABC, NBC and CBS draw an average of 18-20 million viewers per night. So, when we hear that almost 20 million people watched the Jan. 6 hearings across ABC, NBC, CBS andCNN, MSNBC and Fox Business, along with six other networks, suddenly that viewership doesn’t look so hot.  

More context: President Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this year was watched by nearly 40 million people, or about twice as many as watched the opening act of these hearings.

And more context: On CBS on June 9, an episode of a program called “Young Sheldon” was preempted by the hearings. The network drew 3.24 million viewers, or about 600,000 fewer viewers than a rerun of “Young Sheldon,” which was watched by 3.86 million the week before. And when compared to “Young Sheldon’s” last non-repeat on May 19, that drew 6.9 million viewers, or more than double the inaugural hearing on CBS. 

When taken out of primetime, the 1/6 numbers almost completely cratered. Monday, June 13 saw an average of about 10 million viewers. By Day three on Thursday, the number of viewers dropped even further

Consider also the perception of these hearings, which some in the media keep referring to as bipartisan when they are not, at least in spirit. Just 51 percent of voters approve of the House select committee, according to Morning Consult. Among independent voters, the number drops to 45 percent. 

In other words, half the country respects the committee while half does not. If the goal is to change minds and make people care more than before, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Most importantly, none of the witnesses are facing anything resembling cross-examination because the minority party is not truly represented. (Staunch Trump critics Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) don’t count regardless of the letter next to their name.) 

This doesn’t mean that Jan. 6, a horrible day for this country, should not be investigated. But a truly bipartisan commission like the 9/11 commission should have been the goal here. Instead, what we’re seeing is just more political theater at a time when Americans are concerned about more important things: 40-year-high inflation, record-high gas prices, skyrocketing crime, a porous border bringing in millions of illegal immigrants and record numbers dying of fentanyl. And a war in Ukraine that isn’t ending anytime soon. 

There’s a “been there, done that” feel to all of this. Donald Trump was already impeached over his rhetoric that helped fuel the Capitol riot 17 months ago. More importantly, unlike President Nixon during the Watergate hearings nearly 50 years ago, which 71 percent of the country tuned in for, Trump is no longer in office. 

The goal appears to be to make Trump and his inner circle look bad. And the committee has certainly succeeded at that. But the chairman of the committee has already said it will not make any official criminal referrals to the Justice Department, and Trump has already been impeached over Jan. 6.

Audiences have largely tuned out the Jan. 6 hearings as it rolls to its conclusion. And it’s hard to see a scenario under which anyone is talking about it come July 6 let alone Nov. 8. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Biden Donald Trump impeachment Jan. 6 House committee January 6 January 6 attack on the Capitol January 6 riots

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