To say the vice presidential debate between Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine wasn’t exactly must-see TV Wednesday in Western New York is an understatement.
The local rating for the debate was about 50 percent lower than it was for the debate between their running mates a week earlier and about 40 percent lower than the 2012 vice presidential debate.
The 10 channels carrying the vice presidential debate Wednesday had a collective local rating of 23.8 points compared to a collective 48.9 points when Republican nominee Donald Trump debated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on Sept.26.
The 2012 vice presidential debate between Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden had a combined 40.1 local rating.
Still, the 23.8 rating makes for a sizable audience at a time the most popular prime time programs now get local ratings in the low and mid-teens.
Of course, the most popular programs in WNY are Buffalo Bills games. The Bills' 16-0 win Sunday over New England had a 39.7 rating on WIVB-TV.
WGRZ-TV (Channel 2, the NBC affiliate) had the highest-rating for Wednesday’s debate with a 5.3 rating. WIVB had a 5.0, Fox News a 3.9, WKBW-TV a 3.4 and MSNBC a 2.7. Interestingly, CNN was the lowest-rated cable network here with a 0.9, the same as WUTV, the local Fox affiliate.
Toronto’s 5-2 American League wild-card playoff victory over Baltimore Wednesday in extra innings carried by cable’s TBS had little impact on debate viewing. It had a 2.6 rating during the debate and a 4.2 rating overall.
After Wednesday’s debate, a scientific CNN poll of debate watchers that had more Democrats than Republicans declared Pence the winner by a 48-42 percent margin over Kaine. That was in line with what most of CNN’s own analysts believed.
By a 29-18 margin, those polled afterwards said they were more likely to vote for Pence's running mate (Trump) than they were to vote for Kaine's running mate (Clinton).
Respondents in the same poll said Kaine did a better job defending Clinton than Pence did defending Trump by a 58-35 percent margin and that Kaine understood the issues better by a 48-41 percent margin.
It is one thing for ordinary citizens not to understand presidential polling, quite another for local TV news stations not to put polls in context.
On Friday, Channel 2 reported the race between Clinton and Trump remained very tight after the results of a Rasmussen poll showed that Clinton was only ahead by one point after the first debate.
That is true, but the use of that poll to illustrate where the race stood badly needed perspective. Trump had been up five points in the same poll before the debate. More importantly, polling expert Nate Silver of the highly-respected website 538 refers to Rasmussen as a “Republican-leaning poll.” Most other polls had Clinton up by a larger margin.
Forgive me, but as a Long Island native I was a little baffled Friday watching “Blue Bloods” when Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) thought the Hamptons were in Nassau County. They are in Suffolk County. OK, I’ll shut up now.