In 2019, everyone who follows the media or watches TV knows Fox News is the most-watched cable network. If there’s a week when Rachel Maddow and MSNBC upend that narrative, you’ll hear about it from a number of sources. Of course, the raw numbers only tell part of the story.
By now, most Americans are also familiar with Fox News content. To put it gently, hosts tend to heap heavy doses of opinion on top of small servings of news. When you’re not hearing Tucker Carlson talk about immigration making the country “dirtier,” you might catch the Fox & Friends gang discussing marijuana’s status as a gateway drug.
With these broadcasting choices in mind, you might wonder who’s actually watching Fox News on a given day. Looking at the reports from Nielsen, the answer is viewers of a certain age. It’s also almost entirely viewers of one race.
The median age of Fox News viewers is 65.
According to Nielsen ratings, the median age of Fox’s audience was 66 in 2016. Following something of a youthful surge the following year, Adweek reported “good news” for Fox News early in 2018. Over the past year, the median age of the cable channel’s audience had dropped to 65. Looking at prime-time numbers alone, Fox viewers kicked back up to 66.
Getting away from the median doesn’t change the picture much. More than half of the Fox News audience is older than 65. If you go by raw numbers, of the 3.3 million households taking in Sean Hannity’s show on a nightly basis in 2018, just south of 2 million would have been senior citizens.
Looking at in-depth demographics reports from Fox, you’ll note that just 643,000 nightly Hannity viewers belonged to the 25-54 age group. Nightly news programs from NBC and CBS had about three times that number of 25-54 year-old viewers in 2018.
Still, Fox News isn’t alone in attracting a mostly senior audience. If you look at MSNBC and CNN demographics, you’ll find only slightly younger audiences in recent years, and the median age of MSNBC viewers hit 65 in 2017. (Overall, seniors watch the most TV by a significant margin.)
But one bit of demographic data separates Fox News from its competitors.
The Fox News audience is 94% white.
If you caught any Laura Ingraham or Tucker broadcasts over the past year, you might wonder if minority viewers would like the sort of topics being discussed on a nightly basis. For example, before Tucker discussed a “dirtier” America with more immigrants, Ingraham brought up “massive demographic changes … foisted on the American people … [ones] most of us don’t like.”
In his analysis of Ingraham’s broadcast (“White Anxiety Find a Home at Fox News”), CNN’s Brian Stelter noted the racial composition of the Fox News audience, saying it was nearly “100% white.” Stelter later published the exact numbers from Nielsen via Twitter. His estimate was close enough: From January through August 2018, Fox News viewers were “94% White, 3% Hispanic, 2% Asian, and 1% Black.”
As you continue hearing which cable-news channel is the most-watched, it’s always helpful to know exactly how many people that involves, and what they look like. In the case of Fox News during prime-time, it’s about 1% of the U.S. population, and most viewers are white people over 65.
Over at MSNBC and CNN, it’s quite a different story. MSNBC had the most African-American prime-time viewers of any cable network in 2017. CNN, which features Don Lemon, the only black anchor in a prime-time slot, ranked eighth among all cable networks in African-American viewers that year.
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