The Trump Effect? MSNBC Reaches No. 1 In Total Viewers

A big change appears to have taken place in American cable news viewing habits.


In what seems to be a reaction to the continuing train wreck that is the Trump Administration, there’s been an interesting shake up in the world of cable news:

MSNBC ranked as the number one network across all of cable in total viewers for the first time in its history, according to Nielsen data.

For Wednesday, Aug. 16, MSNBC averaged 1.52 million viewers for the total day across all of cable, edging out second place Fox News, who averaged 1.5 million. CNN ranked fourth among all cable networks for the day with 1.13 million total viewers. Nickelodeon was third with 1.17 million. However, in the key adults 25-54 demographic, CNN was number one among the cable news networks for the total day, averaging 381,000 viewers in that measure. Fox News was second in the demo for total day with 353,000 viewers, and MSNBC was third with 343,000.

In primetime, MSNBC was also first in total viewers among the cable news networks with 2.61 million viewers. Fox News was second with 2.4 million. CNN was third with 1.59 million. In the key demo for primetime, MSNBC was first with 613,000. Fox News narrowly outpaced CNN for second place with 560,000, with CNN averaging 557,000.

Across all of broadcast in primetime, Wednesday’s episodes of “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” were among the top 10 shows of the night in total viewers, with Maddow averaging 3.25 million viewers at 9 p.m. and O’Donnell averaging 2.54 million at 10. They were both the highest-rated and most-watched cable news programs in their respective time slots, with Maddow also nabbing 778,00 viewers in the key demo and O’Donnell nabbing 597,000.

Airing against Maddow, Fox’s “The Five” averaged 2.31 million viewers and 577,000 viewers in the demo. CNN’s Anderson Cooper averaged 1.52 million viewers with 550,000 in the demo. At 10 against O’Donnell, Fox’s Sean Hannity pulled in 2.46 million viewers and 594,00 in the demo. CNN’s Don Lemon drew 1.58 million viewers and 542,000 in the demo.

It’s hard to tell what is behind this change, but one possibility is that it’s a combination of two factors.

The first is the fact that there have been tremendous changes in the lineup at Fox News Channel over the past year. Beginning with the departure of Roger Ailes due to a series of sexual harassment lawsuits and claims filed or asserted by women who had worked at Fox News during his two-decade, the network has lost Megyn Kelly, arguably its most popular hosts and one who had and has credibility outside of the conservative media universe, and then Bill O’Reilly who had the highest rated show on the network and in the cable news world for nearly twenty years. As with Ailes, O’Reilly’s departure was linked to charges of sexual harassment from women he had worked with at Fox. Between the two men, it’s been estimated that the network and its parent company 21st Century Fox have paid out tens of millions of dollars in mostly confidential settlements. These payouts came just as the company was getting the scandal over wiretapping that had struck several of its British newspapers behind it and was apparently particularly troublesome for the sons of Rupert Murdoch, who are increasingly taking over his roles as the head of the various companies under the News Corporation umbrella. Replacing Kelly and O’Reilly have been a show hosted by the increasingly unhinged Tucker Carlson, who is so far from being the seemingly sane conservative he was ten years ago, and The Five, a panel show that used to be aired in the afternoon. The only member of the long-standing Fox lineup left is Sean Hannity, whose show has become nothing more than a wall-to-wall cheering section for Donald Trump. It’s quite likely that many of FNC’s viewers, especially those who started their evenings with O’Reilly, have moved on.

In addition to Fox News losing viewers, it’s likely that the Presidency of Donald Trump is leading more people to both watch more cable news and to watch a network such as MSNBC, where the disdain that the hosts in the evening especially hold for the current President is quite evident. Many of these new viewers are likely people turned off by the President looking for something to hang on to, as well as Hillary Clinton supporters and newly energized Democrats who are looking for at least some solace in dark times. There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but it seems unlikely that the rise of Trump is unconnected with the success that MSNBC is experiencing these days.

Personally speaking, when I’m working from home I tend to have cable news on in the background. Usually, that means CNN, but since I generally start the morning with Morning Joe, I sometimes end up sticking with MSNBC up until the afternoon. Over on CNN, Jake Tapper’s afternoon show is one I try to actually pay attention to if time allows, after which I switch between Chuck Todd on MSNBC and Wolf Blitzer on CNN, who I can honestly take only in small doses and who I really can’t stand when CNN is in “Breaking News” mode, which has been all too common these days. I rarely watch Fox News Channel except perhaps for sometimes watching Shepard Smith, who may be the only sane person at that entire network at this point. As for the evenings, I generally don’t watch any of the networks in the evening unless there’s some compelling news event to follow. It’s baseball season after all! (speaking of which, how about them Yankees?) Yes, I am a news junkie.

How long this viewership change will last is, of course, a different question. Another interesting factor that continues to be true is that the bulk of Fox News’s viewership tends to skew older, something that has apparently concerned many top executives at the channel’s parent company and has been at least part of the effort that has been made, albeit a small one, to make the network’s more of a ‘hard news’ outlet and less of a conservative propaganda network. MSNBC, meanwhile, has shuffled its own lineup to the point where it too has become more of a ‘hard news’ outlet than it had been in the past, especially in the afternoons. Both networks have their opinion shows in the evenings, of course, and its in this category that the big change appears to be most evident, especially since the network has ditched controversial hosts like Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton and built its lineup around Rachel Maddow, who is decidedly liberal but does give at least some voice to opposing points of view that Fox News’s evening hosts do not. That strategy appears to be paying off.


FILED UNDER: Open Forum, The Presidency, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Liberal Capitalist says:

    How about some of those who watch FOX now finding out that when the GOP has all three branches of gov’t, they are actually feckless?

    Heath care goes down in flames, likely tax reform will as well. They have nothing for which to root.

    Those who scream that Washington DC accomplishes nothing due to partisan bickering… well, they have nothing to say. It is the GOP’s own internal challenge with “fund raising jingoism” vs “the reality of governing”

    Speeding car, meet brick wall.

    And MSNBC ratings go up, because everyone loves to gawk at the car crash… as long as it’s not them.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    The hot news these days is the Trump follies and FOX avoids covering it.

    A note on Scarborough. He’s gone pretty solidly anti Trump hoping people will forget how enthusiastically and favorably he covered Trump through the primaries. Nose was brown with Trump stuff. He’s one of the people who created this mess.

  3. CSK says:

    This is purely anecdotal evidence, of course, but I’ve spoken to a few former Fox devotees who say they no longer watch Fox because it’s become too…left-wing.

  4. Mu says:

    The Fox geezers are slowly dying away, and the new Trump blue collar voters are not known for their cable news watching habits.
    Now, if Tucker would be doing his commentary over a NASCAR race or some WWE ….

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    because everyone loves to gawk at the car crash… as long as it’s not them.

    Sadly, we’re all in this car together.

  6. Mark Ivey says:

    Fake Channel! *SNIFF*

  7. Stormy Dragon says:


    A note on Scarborough. He’s gone pretty solidly anti Trump hoping people will forget how enthusiastically and favorably he covered Trump through the primaries. Nose was brown with Trump stuff. He’s one of the people who created this mess.

    I’m sure denouncing anyone that tries to switch sides is the key to Democratic victory in 2018.

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    I have to admit that I’m watching MSNBC, when I haven’t for several years.
    Steve Schmidt, a Republican and a regular guest, is excellent.

  9. CSK says:

    In a related matter: The execrable Felix Sater, Trump’s former business partner and convicted felon, has slithered out from under his rock to claim that he’s ready to rat out Trump to Mueller, and that Trump (and Sater himself) are prison-bound.

    Sater’s a blowhard, among other things, but if he’s not, the next month could be entertaining.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Stormy Dragon: While normally I would echo that sentiment, this is Morning Joe. The only allegiance he has is to his ratings.

  11. teve tory says:

    Fox can’t cover breaking trump news, which kinda hampers the excitement. I have a friend who checks fox news along with the others when a big trump story comes out to see what they’re rolling, then posts it on FB. They’re always like:

    CNN: Trump blames “many sides” for Charlottesville
    MSNBC: Trump blames “many sides” for Charlottesville
    Bloomberg: Trump blames “many sides” for Charlottesville
    FoxNews: Are zebras a kind of horse?

  12. Franklin says:

    This is fake news, of course. The only important thing is how many viewers are in the most important demographic: old white men (who at least claim to be straight).

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Fox News is for morons and I’m not a moron.

    CNN has its moments and its stars, but I agree as to Wolf Blitzer – he’s the single greatest impediment to my watching CNN. He’s tedium made flesh.

    MSNBC is the best blend of actual news (they have NBC for that) and opinion shows that are distinctly ‘left’ but still inhabit reality. Maddow is one of the best broadcasters around, effortlessly in control of facts, always fair and respectful, and scrupulous as to crediting sources and praising the reporters who bring her their work.

    Any comparison between Maddow and her Fox competition is spurious. Fox people lie. Blatantly, repeatedly, and always for political effect. MSNBC does not lie, on the contrary Rachel does sit-down interviews any Republican who cares to show up, is always polite and respectful, and is clearly pushing for the truth, not some pre-baked conclusion. Whereas Hannity and Carlson are straight-up liars.

  14. Anonne says:

    Steve Schmidt, Nicolle Wallace and Michael Steele are great contributors, very real and thoughtful people. You’ll also see people like Josh Barro and David Frum. Unlike CNN who had the clown show of Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany, MSNBC has really good people from the other side of the aisle as commentators. I’m not wild about them having Hugh Hewitt but even a broken clock is right twice a day and sometimes he has had good commentary.

    MSNBC and Rachel in particular is doing a better job at sussing out what is happening and giving people context instead of just reporting the horse race.

  15. Mister Bluster says:

    Since my TV at home does not get any channels two of my prime sources for news are the internet and radio.
    Does OTB have any way to measure a change in clicks since Donald Trump was inaugurated?

  16. Electroman says:

    @CSK: I have no doubt that there are plenty. Of course, the real change is in these viewers; they have become more right-wing, and Fox hasn’t followed as quickly as they would like.

  17. CSK says:


    I think you’re right. Of course, all these people complaining about Fox’s alleged leftward tilt are ardent Trumpkins.

  18. al-Alameda says:

    As far as MSNBC goes – as with any other news and opinion network – it’s a matter of personal preference.

    I usually watch parts of Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid.
    I don’t much care for Rachel Maddow’s style of delivery and cadence, and Brian Williams comes off as smug and insufferable.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    I love Joy Reid. Have you ever read the stuff she publishes at The Daily Beast? She is the Happy Assassin.

    O’Donnell is not a great broadcaster, but he’s indispensable for explaining Congressional ins-and-outs. Days before the GOP publicly admitted that Repeal and Replace was dead, he had chapter and verse on what McConnell would do.

  20. James Pearce says:


    While normally I would echo that sentiment, this is Morning Joe. The only allegiance he has is to his ratings.

    We don’t need his allegiance. We just need his help.

  21. Tyrell says:

    Al Sharpton calls for Washington, Jefferson statues to be removed.
    Group calls for Mt Rushmore to be destroyed.
    Lincoln statue defaced in Chicago.

  22. CSK says:

    Breaking news: Sixteen out of seventeen members of The President’s Committee on Arts and The Humanities have resigned in protest over Trump’s handling of Charlottesville.

    I’m delighted.

  23. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Actually BBC (perhaps ironically given the revolution a few centuries ago) is arguably the best source of English language American political news.

    Being one step removed probably helps with that. CBC (Canada’s version of BBC) isn’t as good, because American politics is too close to home (geographically and economically). But it tends to be good too.

    Neither will give much on state as opposed to federal politics though.

  24. Tyrell says:

    @al-Alameda: I stopped watching NBC long ago: even there sports has declined. CNBC is okay. Chris Matthews and O’Donnell hollar at guests, Maddow talks too fast. Of course they do not report the news, just make comments and give opinions. I can get that at the local barber shop or hamburger joint.
    I usually go to Channel One, USA Today, Space Weather, Scholastic, Newsela, and local radio for facts and more positive news now.
    I grew up on Walter Conkrite, David Brinkley, Harry Reasoned, Mike Wallace, Howard Smith, and the incomparable Charles Kuralt. The people they have today would not even be allowed in the parking lot back then.
    “And that’s the way it is”

  25. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Speaking of the Daily Beast…ERIN GLORIA RYAN
    She also shows up on MSNBC occasionally.
    Her twitter feed is very amusing.

  26. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “CNN has its moments and its stars, but I agree as to Wolf Blitzer – he’s the single greatest impediment to my watching CNN. He’s tedium made flesh.”

    I have largely dropped CNN since they went to their panels for “analysis” of everything. It’s like watching Crossfire at its worst, except Crossfire ended after half an hour.

  27. teve tory says:


    This is purely anecdotal evidence, of course, but I’ve spoken to a few former Fox devotees who say they no longer watch Fox because it’s become too…left-wing.

    i wonder what they do instead.

  28. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


  29. grumpy realist says:

    Another piece of evidence showing that Hipster Nazis think they’re just trolling on the Internet when they march in parades with swastikas and torches.

    So it looks to me like yeah, the Internet allows these losers to hype each other up much more easily. On the other hand, doing 99% of your activity on the Internet means you learn a whole bunch of habits which means that you’re a sitting duck when you try to do stuff in “meatspace.”

    Reality ain’t the internet, guys. Real blood gets shed, real people die, and you get charged with real crimes.

  30. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
    Trump has the best people…

  31. CSK says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Oh, boy. Now Trump’s going to have Breitbart and the Mercers as deadly enemies.

  32. CSK says:

    According to Maggie Haberman, Bannon actually resigned on August 7. No wonder he went to Kuttner the other day to sabotage Trump.

  33. inhumans99 says:

    Tucker Carlson is someone I did not always agree with when I used to catch him on CNN’s Crossfire, but he was definitely sane back then. I think it has been at least 10 years since I have seen him on CNN, but yeah…dude did not used to be a sycophant for any particular administration. He is now part of The Daily Caller blog, which I understand traffics in easily debunked stories concerning the enemy that is us Liberals…oops, I mean libtards (that is what Conservatives call us right?).

    The man could have been someone people on both sides of the aisle respect, such as Jake Tapper. Oh well, that is water under the bridge.

  34. grumpy realist says:


    1. Al Sharpton is the left’s equivalent of Newt Gingrich a.k.a. “political has-been wanting to get himself talked about again.” Yawn. IRRELEVANT.

    2. “A group”? That could be anything from the NAACP to two loudmouths with a Facebook page. If I rummage around, I can find someone to propound every lunatic idea under the sun, including geocentrism. Get back to me when you have some real fuss going on.

    3. “statue of Lincoln defaced”….ummmm, you DO realize that it’s far more likely that a statue of Lincoln was defaced by some stupid White Identity nitwit rather than someone on the left, mmkay?

  35. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Apparently Trump is having a hard time saying:

    You’re fired!!!

    This administration can’t even fire someone properly…

  36. JohnMcC says:

    @CSK: During the election I regularly monitored breitbart and similar sites. The comment sections (I know, I know) were loaded with anti-Fox opinions — all of them accusing FNC of becoming liberal. Of course, at the beginning of the primary process FNC was anti-Trump.

  37. MarkedMan says:

    In general, television news is a waste of time. They have big budgets, sure, but I would guess that 99.5% of that budget is used for something other than actual investigative reporting. And no, I don’t count it as investigative reporting when they send a talking head with a seven figure annual salary, their personal aids, production aids, makeup artist, lighting supervisor, cameramen, producers, assistant producers and assorted local runners, drivers and caterers to the Ukraine to film a 72 second segment of the talking head standing in front of a battlefield. Nor do I count it when they have on an “expert” panel consisting of four reporters, or people who might have done something at one time but whose entire profession now consists of being an “expert” on one cable show after another.

    If you go to a news source to get actual knowledge nothing compares to the wire services, followed very closely by a very few top level newspapers, followed by NPR. The magazines are a shadow of their former glory, except for a few specialty publications.

    10 years ago or so there was a scandal with a substance (melamine?) being added to food at Chinese factories to give false increases to the protein level for everything from pet food (sold in America and causing cats to get sick) to baby formula (sold in Asia and causing deaths in protein starved babies.) I don’t remember how the story broke but what I do remember is that the TV shows had lots of dramatic graphics and stirring news but nothing but “expert” panels comprised of people who had literally zero insight into China, manufacturing, food additives or anything else that might have shed some light on the subject. Oh and they threw in some “tough questions” hurled at Chinese and American government officials who obviously did not yet have clue number one as to what was going on.

    It turns out that during that first crucial day or two the New York times had used their China based reporters and sources and managed to get to something like a dozen factories that were using the additive. Since the news is heavily censored in China the factory supervisors didn’t know there was a scandal and didn’t know that there was anything wrong with the additive. They told reporters where they bought it, who told them to put it in, showed them the workers adding it, showed how it raised the numbers for protein (as production people they thought they were legitimately increasing protein count so they had no reason to hide it). They collected hundreds of additional sources that allowed them to keep reporting the story after the scandal broke in China and the local party people told everyone to stop talking. Their story and the stories that followed completely reset the developing narrative. The TV shows changed their “reporting” to shouting questions at government officials that were raised by the Times, or having “expert” panels that either reiterated points from the Times articles, or were completely ignorant of them but looked and sounded great.

    I haven’t watched TV news since I was 17 years old and realized just how stupid and vacuous the whole enterprise is.

  38. al-Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I love Joy Reid. Have you ever read the stuff she publishes at The Daily Beast? She is the Happy Assassin.

    O’Donnell is not a great broadcaster, but he’s indispensable for explaining Congressional ins-and-outs.

    I like Joy the most of the MSNBC rotation, she’s got an upbeat energetic style without going over-the-top. Also, I have not checked out her TDB stuff.

    You’re right about O’Donnell, he really understands processes up on Capitol Hill.
    I also like his non-histrionic style.

  39. teve tory says:

    @grumpy realist:

    3. “statue of Lincoln defaced”….ummmm, you DO realize that it’s far more likely that a statue of Lincoln was defaced by some stupid White Identity nitwit rather than someone on the left, mmkay?

    Down here in the Deep South lots of people HATE lincoln for freeing the slaves. And to me it looks like the graffiti reads ‘fuck islam’.

    So probably a trumper.

  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Pearce: It is not nice wishing death on people.

  41. Kylopod says:

    @michael reynolds:

    O’Donnell is not a great broadcaster, but he’s indispensable for explaining Congressional ins-and-outs.

    He was one of the producers and writers of The West Wing, and in many ways the show had those very traits: it understood the nuts and bolts of Washington very well, but also engaged in a lot of smug liberal fantasizing (like that scene in which Santos defends being a liberal at the presidential debate; I saw O’Donnell mention having written that very scene).

  42. James Pearce says:


    It is not nice wishing death on people.

    Who’s wishing death on who here?

  43. Andre Kenji says:

    CNN’s “Inside Politics” with John King is pretty good. It’s the only CNN show without Jake Tapper that’s watchable.

  44. Anonne says:

    @Andre Kenji: Fareed Zakaria is still watchable, but not the dreck after it.

  45. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @CSK: That’s the Mark Levin view. With Fox News’s defection to the left, there are no longer any balanced and truthful outlets in the news–except (wait for it)…

    LEVIN TV!!!

  46. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @CSK: CNN (?? I got this second hand) has the story as Kelly asked Bannon to consider resigning on 8/6 and that he and Bannon agreed to backdate Bannon’s resignation to 8/7 today, for whatever that is worth,

  47. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: I remember a time over 20 years ago when a Spokane network affiliate on their evening news reported a story about declining oxygen levels (from an ongoing drought) killing trout in streams–complete with a poignant film of some fish apparently gasping in a shallow pool of water.

    The following day a man claiming to recognize the film wrote to the Spokane evening paper noting the following problems:

    1) It wasn’t a stream it was a pond

    2) It wasn’t in Idaho, it was in Minnesota

    3) It wasn’t a trout, it was a carp

    but other than that, the film was okay.

  48. Tyrell says:

    @Kylopod: I know
    O’Donnell knows a lot about how DC works, and he would be a good White House person. But it seems on tv he holler too much.
    I mainly stick now to CNBC, NewsEla, USA Today, Space Weather, Channel One,and am radio.

    If any of you are heading south on Monday (eclipse day) the officials are saying to watch out for massive traffic jams on interstates and by passes.

  49. HelloWorld! says:

    Say what you will about Rachel Maddow, but I love how she gives a lot of background and context to her stories. I think she would be a top notch host if she toned down her gleeful reactions (to which Hannity exhibits these as well). She also might provide a liberal perspective, but its with factual data to back it up, instead of accusations like you get from Fox.