Political Ratings – A Nation Divided?

As we head to the closing weeks of the election season, I’d like to highlight the relationship between political orientation and TV program selection. As you fans of this blog know, Rentrak has a political segmentation. We based it on looking at actual program viewership, with the anchors of the “news” networks of MSNBC and Fox being the left and right ends of the spectrum. Based on hours of viewership, we can divide our millions of homes along a spectrum of “low involvement” to “very conservative.”

If we look at the two poles of “any liberal” and “any conservative” we get, at first glance, a very polarized viewing community as the graph below shows. The horizontal axis is the index of each program for conservative viewers compared to the average for over 7,500 prime time programs across 230 networks in September. The vertical axis is the index of liberals for those same programs. We have removed all programs from the news networks of MSNBC, Fox, PBS and CNN. In addition, in order to be clear with the graphs, we are only showing the top 750 programs, ones that have a .3 rating or higher.

It really does seem like a divided country. There aren’t many shows that are in the upper right hand quadrant appealing to both liberals and conservatives, and there aren’t many shows in the lower left hand quadrant, shows that aren’t above average for either liberals or conservatives.  It looks like a pretty tight line with shows having either a liberal or conservative skew.

Okay, so what is each side watching that the other isn’t? Let’s dive into the liberals first. (No bias intended here!) The graph below “blows” up the liberal quadrant, the upper left from the first graph. We’ve only included the programs that have greater than a 110 index for liberals, and less than a 90 index for conservatives. The size of each point reflects its total U.S. rating: bigger points have higher ratings. I’ve also called out a few programs by labeling them and coloring them red. (To reflect the “red, white & blue” of our nation’s flag, not for any partisan comment!)

The theme for liberal shows is comedy, Hispanic programming, adult oriented cartoons and sitcoms. There isn’t a cop show or a western in the bunch!

It looks very different when you apply the same filters, but this time just look at the conservative quadrant (the lower right quad from the original graph), as shown below. Here we have detective shows, older dramas, NASCAR and religious programs popping up.

So are we doomed to a country where there isn’t a common cultural heritage (yes, TV is culture!)?  There is hope. A lot of TV does sit in the middle, not quite skewing overly conservative and not quite skewing overly liberal. When we look at those shows in the middle, with and index of between 90 and 110 for liberals and conservatives, you get quite a healthy list of shows. The graph below takes the shows right from the middle section of the first quad map.

The Simpsons skews a bit liberal, but it doesn’t lose too many conservatives. Vegas and Survivor: Philippines do a bit better with conservatives, but liberals aren’t running screaming out of the room. And the highly rated shows like Sunday Night Football and Dancing with the Stars are getting both Donkeys and Elephants.

Three lessons here, I think: 1) If you want to, target and reach on a side of the political fence on a concentration basis. (E.g. just talk to the political beast you want to talk to.) 2) You can also talk to both sides at once in TV, and talk to a lot of them at the same time. 3) Knowing which programs to pick for concentration or conciliation isn’t that simple. It requires a finely tuned segmentation tool. And Rentrak has it.

In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.


4 thoughts on “Political Ratings – A Nation Divided?

  1. Bruce, do you use ALL programs on those two networks to set the definitions, or do you exclude “straight” news programs (Studio B, Fox Report) and include only opinion shows (O’Reilly, Hannity, Maddow, Sharpton) to set the lib/con split?

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