Appearing On Fox Not Hurting Candidates With Democratic Voters

So far at least, appearing on Fox News Channel does not appear to be hurting the candidates who've done it with Democratic voters.

According to a new poll from Politico and Morning Consult, appearing on Fox News Channel does not appear to be harming the fortunes of Democratic candidates for President in the eyes of Democratic voters:

Fox News’ presidential town halls have the Democratic primary field at odds over whether it’s permissible to appear on conservatives’ preferred network, but most voters say they’re fine with it.

More than 60 percent of Democrats said they think it’s acceptable for candidates from their party to appear at the town halls, a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found. Just 17 percent of Democrats said it’s inappropriate for the White House hopefuls to agree to the primetime events.

The results could reassure 2020 Democratic hopefuls who want to use Fox News appearances to reach out to conservative-leaning voters — particularly after South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg received days of media attention and stirred up tension at the network with his on-air critiqueof Fox’s opinion hosts during Sunday’s town hall.

“Democratic presidential hopefuls who hold Fox News town halls can expect their primary voters to approve of the forums on the hot-button network,” said Morning Consult vice president Tyler Sinclair. “Notably, 64 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of self-identified liberals say it’s appropriate for 2020 candidates to appear on Fox News town hall programs, compared with 17 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of liberals who say it’s inappropriate.”


Four 2020 contenders have taken Fox News up on its offers of air time so far, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand, who appears on June 2. And others have made clear they’d go on if asked, regardless of the drama.

“A lot of people in my party were critical of me doing this, and I get where that’s coming from, especially when you see what goes on with some of the opinion hosts on this network,” Buttigieg said, citing Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham by name. “There is a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem.”

The events have also caused some strain with President Donald Trump, who told supporters at a rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, Monday that “something strange is going on at Fox. Something very strange.”

Trump described Buttigieg as “knocking the hell out of Fox” on air.
People close to the network said the town halls are generally good for Fox News, both in terms of ratings and giving the network access to top presidential candidates. But the events have also highlighted the tension between the news and opinion sides of the network in uncomfortable ways.

One Fox News employee said Buttigieg should have gone on Carlson’s and Ingraham’s shows if he wanted to criticize them for, respectively, implying that immigration makes America “dirtier” and comparing detention facilities for immigrant children to “summer camps.” The employee also noted that Chris Wallace, who was moderating the session, didn’t push back.

“If Buttigieg has a problem with primetime hosts,” the employee said, “he should be willing to say it on their shows.”

The issue of appearing on Fox News Channel has become a topic of debate and disagreement between some of the Democratic candidates. Most notably, Elizabeth Warren announced just last week that she had turned down an invitation to appear on a Fox News town hall and California Senator Kamala Harris did the same thing for much the same reason.

Other candidates have taken a different position, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar and of course Pete Buttigieg, who appeared on the network on Sunday. The Sanders town hall drew more than 2.5 million viewers, which is the largest audience of any town hall event on any of the three cable news networks. Klobuchar’s town hall, meanwhile, drew roughly 1.6 million viewers, more than twice the number that a similar event with the Minnesota Senator drew when she appeared on CNN.  Buttigieg’s Sunday night appearance, meanwhile, drew an estimated 1.1 million viewers, which is a fairly good number for a Sunday night. In addition to these four, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will be appearing on the network on June 7th and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro is currently negotiating to appear on the network in the future.

If this poll accurately reflects the state of mind of Democratic voters, then it could prompt other candidates to appear on the controversial network notwithstanding the position taken by candidates like Warren and Harris. While there may be some Democrats who apparently object to the idea of their candidates appearing on Fox, this poll suggests that the vast majority of such voters do not and that Democratic candidates would not pay a significant price if they agreed to appear. Thus, the calculus for Democratic candidates becomes much easier since they can accept an invitation if they wish seemingly without worrying about whether or not they are ultimately harming themselves with a broader group of voters.

Given these numbers, it seems clear that the arguments in favor of courting the network outweigh any arguments against doing so. As has been noted, these programs are not going to be hosted by one of the network’s opinion hosts, but instead would be hosted by one of the “hard news” hosts such as Chris Wallace Bret Bair, or Shepard Smith all three of whom have demonstrated a long-standing history of objectivity and even a willingness to question the ideological bias of their own network. Additionally, as Liz Mair and Evan Seigfried both note, there is at least some segment of the Fox News Channel audience that is persuadable by the candidate. Finally, there’s the fact that one has to argue that candidates such as Sanders, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg get some credit for having the nerve to appear on a network where they may face some hostile questions. Passing that up in the name of tossing out rhetoric about “hate-for-profit” seems like a foolish decision.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Doug, your analysis depends on a belief that Fox News is trustworthy and will not sabotage Biden or some other front runner if they appear. But that is a high risk bet.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    …that candidates such as Sanders, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg get some credit for having the nerve to appear on a network where they may face some hostile questions.

    Well, the latter two certainly need to do whatever they can to move up in the polling, so it makes sense for them…

    Passing that up in the name of tossing out rhetoric about “hate-for-profit” seems like a foolish decision.

    How “foolish” it is will depend on what happens to those who decline…if they are still successful, it won’t be “foolish” at all…

  3. Kit says:

    Passing that up in the name of tossing out rhetoric about “hate-for-profit” seems like a foolish decision.

    I disagree. In a crowded field, candidates must try to stand out. I think Warren is taking the right stand. And I think the others choosing to go on Fox are also right. My memory is fuzzy, but there was a moment in one of the Republican debates. Trump was starting to run away from the pack. At the closing, all the candidates were asked some question or other. It was the moment for one guy to step forward and challenge some bit of orthodoxy, to stand in the spotlight and see if he could grab the moment. Of course, the fight became one of seeing who could smile the widest, raise his hand the highest, and most perfectly toe the line. Cowards, even at that late hour.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    “A lot of people in my party were critical of me doing this, and I get where that’s coming from, especially when you see what goes on with some of the opinion hosts on this network,” Buttigieg said, citing Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham by name.

    That’s like saying the problem with the AL and GA abortion bills is just that there are no exemptions for rape or incest. It’s not the opinion people, it’s FOX “News”. It’s all the way from old man Murdoch at the top to the lowliest reporters and producers. They’re all involved in cherry picking which stories to highlight and how to slant them and which stories to ignore or bury.

    I think my favorite example was early in the administration when everyone else was running a story that Kellyanne Conway lied. I don’t remember which, but some blatantly obvious lie. On FOX the story was that the press were picking on Kellyanne. I see FOX with captioning at the gym, and it seems like every restaurant in FL. Every now and again I look at headlines on the CNN website and then on FOX. FOX is in an alternate reality. Everything is slanted to what the GOP base want to hear.

    Warren’s plan for dealing with FOX may not be a great plan, but at least she recognizes that FOX is a big part of what’s wrong. I don’t see how anyone can bemoan Trump as prez and not recognize that something has to be done about FOX. Not Hannity, not Ingraham, FOX.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    It comes down to the character of the party and its voters. Democrats always want to unite, to smooth over, to sing kumbaya. They are not, in short, people like the social justice warriors on social media, nor are they confrontational shit-stirrers like some others. (Me.) You can’t do much about core character, it is what it is. And as frustrated as I often am by the reflexive get-along instinct among Democrats, it’s hard to argue that it’s a bad thing for people to want peace and consensus.

    Nothing better exemplifies that core character than the Trump infrastructure tantrum. The Dems show up thinking it’s about doing something good for the people, the Republicans think it’s about pandering to the crazies to protect their criminal president.

    This goes back to something I’ve harped on before: Republicans always lie about their beliefs and goals. Democrats don’t. We actually believe we should be helping people and protecting minorities. And we don’t have to lie about it.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The Dems show up thinking it’s about doing something good for the people

    I gotta challenge you there. Chuck and Nancy fully expected what would happen. After all the meeting was about Trump’s proposal to pony up $2T for infrastructure. If he had made any headway (or even made a significant effort) they would have known about it. Both of them have repeated many times that Trump’s tantrum was the result of his inability to move forward. The MSM hasn’t picked up on it, but what’s new about that?

  7. SKI says:

    Doug, your framing completely misses the point. The issue, as expressed by Warren, isn’t whether going onto Fox News will help or hurt her as a candidate, it is whether it helps legitimize Fox News.

    Your take on this is incredibly “Inside the Beltway” in that it measures everything in terms of the political horse race.

  8. Kit says:

    One other thing: if nothing else, Warren has forced everyone to grapple with her logic when it comes to Fox. In a way, she’s invited herself to every town hall. That works both for her as a candidate, as it does for addressing an issue of the highest importance. She’s controlling the narrative.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    Republicans always lie about their beliefs and goals.

    Indeed…as this piece illustrates, so many supposed conservatives are now nothing more than toadies for Trump…

  10. Teve says:

    At the absolute most, 2-3 million people watch Fox, and a large percentage of them are the kind of brilliant intellects who believe Hillary Clinton sold Uranium through her foundation to finance the terrorist attacks in Benghazi.

    The idea that Elizabeth Warren is going to fail to win the Democratic Primary process a year from now because she didn’t spent an hour on that fake network is laughable.

  11. Teve says:
  12. Teve says:

    @An Interested Party: I wonder if the Freedom Caucus is going along with Trump’s new $16 billion government welfare plan for farmers. I thought they were worried we were turning into Venezuela…

  13. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t think the reporting bears that out, at least not that I’ve seen. This was all a Trump kabuki. He’d arranged to close the curtains so Chuck and Nancy wouldn’t see that he was already setting up for the press in the Rose Garden. Had Trump been sincere and actually wished to discuss infrastructure, they’d have done so – they’d have had no choice. IOW they were acting like Dems – taking the chance that they might do some good, while yes, being smart enough to know that Trump couldn’t actually pull it off. And Trump acted like a Republican, blowing it all up with transparent lies.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    That is a very astute point.

  15. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “IOW they were acting like Dems – taking the chance that they might do some good, while yes, being smart enough to know that Trump couldn’t actually pull it off. ”

    Sure, they knew Trump would probably blow it off once he realized Uncle Mitch wouldn’t let him have the 2 billion he promised, and that he’d find some bullshit excuse to do that. But it only works against Trump if the Dems are their in good faith to make the deal he said he wanted. If they hadn’t showed up, there would have been plenty of blame to go around. Now Trump is stuck with “I can’t do anything good for the country because they hurt my feelings.”

  16. michael reynolds says:

    I’m watching Nancy Pelosi with a mixture of impatience and a suspicion that she may just be smarter than me. Trump doesn’t seem able to lay a glove on her, despite the fact that she obviously infuriates him.

  17. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: I suspect it’s having had the experience of dealing with toddlers.

  18. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: She doesn’t play his game, or get rattled by it. Similar to Buttigieg responding to the question about how he would respond to Trump’s name calling and tweets with “I don’t care”.

    I think she’s wrong about impeachment. And I think she’s wrong about the need to pass bills to go die before they get taken up by the Senate. But she’s pretty good at keeping focused on what she wants to do, while taking just a tiny fragment of her time to derail Trump.

    Something that our many candidates for nominee should pay attention to and learn from. (Mayor Pete may already know that lesson, but… Warren… I love Warren, but…)

  19. Teve says:

    Speaking of The Honorable Fox News, apparently Corey Lewandowski’s on Lou Dobbs’s show right now promoting videos that have been slowed down to make Nancy Pelosi look drunk. I just watched Lewandowski say Pelosi is slurring her words.

    Liz Warren totally shoulda put herself in their hands.

  20. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    The audience of both Buttigieg and Sanders’ townhalls is a good example that Democrats are wasting their time going to Fox News during the primaries. People that watches Fox News are too White, they are not the people that you need to win Democratic Primaries.

    What these two candidates that have not attracted enough support among African-Americans and Hispanics are going to gain appearing in front the Whitest audience of all cable TV?

  21. michael reynolds says:

    There’s a Monmouth poll, not on ‘approval’ but on re-elect. Trump’s approval is stuck at 42%. But his re-elect is 60 to 37, against. Interesting, no? The gap between 42% and 37% is the number of voters too weak to admit Trump was a huge mistake, but willing to say ‘enough, already.’

  22. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: I don’t think anyone is suggesting these candidates are going to win the Democratic primary on the strength of the Fox audience. What they are suggesting is that it’s a chance to reach a different slate of voters in the general election than if they avoided Fox. Personally I have my doubts that’s going to work. But there’s another very rational explanation for this move which the candidates aren’t likely to say outright. The spectacle of their going on Fox–and bashing the network to the hosts’ faces–gives them a burst of publicity that they wouldn’t get on another network. I think Democratic primary voters will eat that up.