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The GOP convention's so-so TV ratings: 4 theories
Republicans put on a big show for Mitt Romney's nomination. But TV viewers kept their remotes handy
 
In 2008, 37 million Americans tuned in to watch Sarah Palin claim the VP nomination. This year, Paul Ryan drew less than 22 million.
In 2008, 37 million Americans tuned in to watch Sarah Palin claim the VP nomination. This year, Paul Ryan drew less than 22 million.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The 2012 Republican convention, which wrapped up with Mitt Romney's acceptance speech on Thursday, had millions fewer TV viewers than the last one. Viewership was down by a whopping 41 percent on night two of the Tampa convention compared to the same night in 2008, though opening night this year did better, narrowly topping the audience of the corresponding night four years ago. But all of the networks got hammered in the ratings on Thursday — the convention's third and final night — with roughly one-third fewer viewers than they had four years ago. This is a super-charged election year with Republicans fired up to prevent President Obama from winning a second term. Why didn't more people tune in? Here, four theories:

1. Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin
The 2008 convention had one big attraction the 2012 one didn't — Sarah Palin. "As a Republican National Convention speaker, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan isn't nearly as much of a draw as Sarah Palin," says The Associated Press. Between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on the night when Ryan made his big debut as Romney's running mate, there were 21.9 million viewers tuned into the nine broadcast and cable networks airing the action. Four years ago, when Palin burst onto the stage and into national prominence as Sen. John McCain's veep candidate, there were 37.2 million Americans glued to their sets.

2. TV is out. Social media is in.
Television is so 2008, says Alicia M. Cohn and Julie Ershadi at The Hill. "Social media is taking over both political conventions this year." TV ratings for political conventions have been plummeting since 1980, for various reasons, but this year, far more people than ever were able to watch on a mobile device or laptop. Several mobile apps let you follow the action in real-time, and both parties set themselves up to "live-stream all events through Google," which used the conventions to show off Google+. That social network didn't even exist in the last presidential cycle, but this year it's giving users access to video chats with speakers and delegates.

3. Conventions have lost all their drama
The big audience in 2008 was an exception, says Gregory Korte at USA Today. Convention ratings have been sliding for decades. There's no longer any drama, as these gatherings haven't "done what they were designed to do" — pick a party's candidate — in years. We all know who the nominee will be months in advance. That's one reason the networks have been scaling back their coverage. People still tune in — especially political junkies — but the reality is that "modern conventions are week-long scripted "infomercials" for the parties." With the drama and suspense gone, audiences are easily peeled away by big news elsewhere, such as hurricanes, as the Republicans saw when Isaac blew through.

4. Blame Honey Boo Boo
"Mitt Romney and company couldn't beat the allure" of little Honey Boo Boo, says Sheila Marikar at ABC News. The sassy former Toddlers & Tiaras star on TLC's controversial new reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo trounced all comers, pulling in the biggest audience on cable Wednesday night. Honey Boo Boo drew 2.9  million viewers at 10 p.m. Fox News, which had the biggest convention audience, trailed far behind with 1.2 million adults watching. It wasn't a fair fight, really, says Cavan Sieczkowski at The Huffington Post. Honey Boo Boo's self-proclaimed "redneck" family went to a water park that night, and who wouldn't choose "Mama June's ride down the water slide" over a bunch of tightly scripted speeches?

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

 

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