President Trump and the Decline of FOX News

FOX News via YouTube

 If you type in #FOXNews on Twitter, chances are you will receive suggestions akin to these:

But why? Let’s take a look back on a pivotal moment in FOX News’ election coverage, as well as the ratings aftermath. 

November 3: FOX News Called Arizona for Joe Biden

On November 3, 2020, FOX News did something they had not done in 24 years. With The Story’s Martha MacCallum by his side, Special Report host Bret Baier announced the Democrat would win the state of Arizona. Former President Barack Obama lost the state by 8.5 percentage points in his 2008 landslide victory against Arizona naive John McCain. When FOX News called the race in 2020, Joe Biden, the candidate at the bottom of the 2008 ticket, was ahead by the same amount. In fact, in Arizona’s 108-year history of being a state, no Democrat has lost the election while winning the state. 

Multiple sources report President Donald Trump was furious at his go-to network for being the first outlet to call Arizona. The network is widely known to cater to conservatives, and Trump himself has praised many of its hosts and done interviews countless times. This call was not FOX News doing catch-up; it would be days before other television stations were comfortable enough to call the state for Biden. 

While President Trump did not tweet all that much about his Arizona loss, he did retweet this:

And this:

By doing so, President Trump is implying he believes the channel is lying and attempting to rig the election against him. As a side note, you can read more about President Trump’s newfound relationship with Newsmax here.

What Came Next for Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum

It is worth noting that news anchors do not make the decisions of when to make key projections. Bret Baier announced the projection; he had nothing to do with making the projection itself, nor was that his job. 

From Monday, November 16 through Thursday, November 19, Special Report with Bret Baier received roughly 2.2 to 2.3 million viewers in its regular 6 pm time slot. According to the website Cable Rankings, Special Report averaged roughly 3.46 million viewers in October. It has not averaged below 2.2 million viewers since October 2019. 

The Story with Martha MacCallum has also suffered tragic declines in the post-election aftermath. From Monday, November 16 through Thursday, November 19, The Story rated lower than every prime time show on FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC in the key demographics of A25-54, A18-49, and A18-34. It just barely edged out Don Lemon’s CNN Tonight in total viewers to avoid a last place finish in that less-important metric. While The Story has typically been FOX News’ lowest-rated prime time show (after all, it airs at 7 pm), finishing below all of CNN and even MSNBC is objectively a collapse. 

Sure, some of this likely is correlated with the anticipation of Election Day behind us. But check out the replies to this tweet... well as those from Martha MacCallum’s captioned retweet:

They’re not pretty, and the ratings reflect it. These are not all empty threats for a boycott; Newsmax’ 7pm show has skyrocketed in the ratings at the same time as The Story has collapsed. While ratings figures for ultra-conservative network OANN are few and far between, President Trump’s constant endorsement of it on Twitter certainly cannot hurt it. Only a small percentage of Trump’s 73+ million voters need to make the switch from FOX News to OANN or fellow ultra-conservative network Newsmax to completely reshape cable news ratings. 

Ratings On The Decline

It’s not just Special Report and The Story diving in the ratings; evening panel show The Five has also seen notable declines. Featuring some of President Trump’s favorite FOX News personalities, The Five has hovered around the 0.35 range in the key A25-54 demographic in mid-November. In October, it averaged a 0.56 rating in that demographic, and in September, a 0.47. You can find the full ratings for The Five’s September, October, and November airings here.

FOX News’ 10 pm opinion show, The Ingraham Angle, has also suffered. It has been averaging around a 0.44 in mid-November, compared to a 0.65 in October and 0.53 in September. While total viewership is not as important when it comes to selling advertisements, the Laura Ingraham-hosted show has been regularly below three million viewers, compared to 4.2 million in October and 3.5 million in September. Ratings for individual airings can be found here

FOX News has put a heavy focus on President Trump’s claims of voter fraud, with some hosts supporting the claims more than others. The latest host to question the legitimacy of the claims is Tucker Carlson, host of the ratings juggernaut Tucker Carlson Tonight. On Thursday, November 19, while not completely dismissing the possibility that voter fraud is present, Carlson called out Trump’s attorney Sidney Powell for not providing him with concrete evidence. In short time, we will be able to know if this will negatively affect his ratings. In the mean time, look at the current ratings here. Keep in mind, while his ratings are also down, Tucker Carlson still has the highest-rated show on cable news through November 19, and has not slipped relative to other shows. Still, the Friday, November 20 finish behind time slot competitor Anderson Cooper 360 may not be a great sign. 

What Comes Next?

While FOX News’ ratings dive is clearly concerning, it would be surprising if they made any drastic changes right away. News anchors change time slots all the time; recent examples include MSNBC’s Chuck Todd moving from evening to afternoon, and CNN’s Chris Cuomo moving from morning to prime time. 

Changes will depend on ad revenue. If FOX News doesn’t think they can do better by making schedule changes, they won’t. If a show’s ad revenue becomes too low, they’ll cancel it and/or move the host to another hour. They could even change the tone of the network, such as increasing the already-excessive anti-Biden rhetoric. One thing is for certain: no matter what FOX News’ schedule is, with OANN and Newsmax still being much smaller than CNN and MSNBC, they will remain the most conservative of the three major cable news channels. With FOX News being available in more homes than competing conservative networks, they will also remain the highest-rated station catered to conservatives; it just depends on by how much. That is, unless they get some competition from none other than President Trump himself. 

What do you think? Are the declines seen in FOX News’ ratings a cause for concern? If not, when might they be? Would you change anything about the network’s strategy? Leave your thoughts below!

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