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Support for the presidential ticket and identification with party predicted convention speech viewing

The Democratic and Republican Convention’s speech audiences tended to be made up of supporters. Nearly two-thirds of those who saw or heard all of Senator Clinton’s speech and about three-fourths of those who saw or heard all of Senator Obama’s speech said they backed the Democratic nominee. Similarly, about six in ten of those who saw or heard the entire convention speeches given by Governor Palin and Senator McCain were supporters of that ticket, according to results from the National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES).

Further, those who heard or watched all of the Obama and Clinton speeches were more likely to be Democrats and those who heard or watched all of the McCain and Palin speeches were more likely to be Republicans. The sample size of those who watched all of Senator Biden’s speech is too small to permit detailed analysis, but the pattern of viewership followed the Democratic ticket.

These findings suggest that many Americans were selective about their convention viewing – they tuned in when their preferred candidate and party took the stage and opted out for the opposition. The data also show that self-described independents were as likely to watch the Democratic speeches as the Republican speeches.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the speeches by McCain, Obama and Palin were the most watched convention speeches of all time. Yet results from the NAES show that about a quarter of the country was unaware of exactly when the conventions were taking place.

Overall, those with more education and older Americans were more likely to view the convention speeches. However, the audience makeup of the speeches differed. Women made up over 50 percent of the viewing audience for Obama, Clinton and Palin. For McCain 55 percent of the audience consisted of men. Obama’s and Clinton’s speech viewers were more racially diverse than either McCain’s or Palin’s.

The data reported here were collected between August 25 and September 4, 2008. Analysis of those who heard or saw a candidate speech in its entirety has a margin of error between 4 and 5 percent with the exception of Biden’s speech, where the margin of error is +/-7 percent.