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Record numbers of viewers tune in to the GOP convention

September 5, 2008 |  1:05 pm

After lackluster showings in viewership at the beginning of the week, the Republican National Convention bounced back on Wednesday and Thursday, making it the most-watched political convention in American history (or at least since Nielsen began recording convention viewership in 1960).

John McCain's acceptance of the Republican nomination last night drew 38.9 million viewers -- a television audience that was 41% larger than the audience for day four of the 2004 GOP convention, which drew only 27.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

This year the Republicans averaged 34.5 million viewers over three nights (Monday's program was shortened and not counted because of Hurricane Gustav) while the Democrats averaged 30.2 million viewers over four nights.

After McCain's acceptance, Sarah Palin's speech on Wednesday night gave the GOP its biggest boost in viewership numbers. McCain's VP pick drew 37 million viewers. 

In comparison, Barack Obama's acceptance of the Democratic nomination drew 38.4 million viewers.

Nielsen's analysis of who is tuning in is revealing.

For example, McCain’s speech drew significantly more men than Obama’s acceptance speech (19.2 million compared with Obama's 17.9 million). And Obama’s speech drew more women (19.9 million compared with McCain 19.2 million).

White viewers flocked to their TVs for McCain’s speech (32.2 million versus 27 million for Obama). But among African Americans, the reverse was true. About 7.5 million African Americans watched Obama’s speech last week, while 3.1 million tuned in for McCain’s.

The actual numbers of those tuning in to both Obama and Palin are higher than the Nielsen figures indicate, because Nielsen does not record PBS' viewers.

-- Kate Linthicum