Why Has Laura Ingraham Been Losing to Lawrence O’Donnell’s ‘Last Word’ in the Ratings in 2019?

For most of 2018, Laura Ingraham was been giving people reasons to not watch her Fox News show. If the fear-mongering on marijuana didn’t turn you off, hearing Ingraham mock the survivors of mass shootings probably did. Or maybe it was that time she compared ICE detention cages to “summer camp” for kids.

In brief, she’s the last place most Americans would go for a cable-news opinion program. But she still had the highest ratings for the 10 p.m. slot in 2018. Even as the majority of her advertisers abandoned her and The Ingraham Angle, she kept a loyal Fox audience.

That’s changed since the start of 2019. Since the new year began, Lawrence O’Donnell’s The Last Word on MSNBC has taken over the top spot in the ratings. In fact, Lawrence beat Ingraham handily in January.

It appears Donald Trump’s rough couple of months boosted MSNBC in prime time from Rachel Maddow through The 11th Hour.

‘The Last Word’ has owned the 10 PM slot in 2019.

Lawrence O'Donnell on Last Word on MSNBC
Lawrence O’Donnell | MSNBC

When the January Nielsen ratings landed, the report showed Maddow posting the No. 1 show in cable news and Fox News retaining its spot as the top network. But the shift at 10 o’clock hour largely went unreported.

In 2018, Ingraham had the No. 4 show in cable news behind Sean Hannity, Maddow, and Tucker Carlson. But between the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve and January 27, The Last Word beat Ingraham’s show by an average of 300,000 viewers per night. (Lawrence also won in the key 25-54 demographic.)

For the most recent week (ending February 5), Lawrence again out-performed Ingraham in both total viewers and the 25-54 demo. So far, it looks like nothing less than a takeover in the final hour of prime time.

In the analysis of some, the surge by Lawrence’s Last Word and other MSNBC shows has not been a coincidence; it followed some of Trump’s worst months to date.

Lawrence’s surge happened alongside Trump’s crash in approval ratings.

Radio Host Laura Ingraham speaks on the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 20, 2016. | Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

A.J. Katz, who covers the cable-news ratings at AdWeek’s TVNewser, frequently notes how a surge at MSNBC typically comes with bad news for Trump. Looking through that lens, it’s not difficult to understand why Lawrence took over the No. 1 spot at 10.

In December, Trump couldn’t have looked worse after leading the government into a shutdown with federal employees bracing for a rough holiday season. Then Trump found himself lacking a way out until he ceded to the Democrats and agreed to a short-term funding deal.

All the while, the majority of Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown. Yet when they tuned to Fox News, they heard defenses of the shutdown on nearly every program. (Fox News hosts get paid to defend Trump.)

Ironically, Laura Ingraham was one of the few on the network who admitted (with qualifications) that Trump lost the standoff with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in January. But that didn’t stop her from losing her lead in the ratings.

With her drop in advertiser count — and remaining ones paying bargain rates — coinciding with her slip from the top spot, it will be interesting to see what happens at 10 o’clock on Fox in the coming months.

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