Jan 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Impeachment trial draws shrugs — by design

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Interest in the Senate impeachment trial over its first three days was barely half as strong as the first three days of the House impeachment hearings, according to data from NewsWhip exclusively provided to Axios.

The big picture: That was by design. By blocking Democratic attempts to subpoena new documents, the Republican-controlled Senate made sure no dramatic new information would surface during the first few days of the trial — and made it easier for Americans to tune out.

By the numbers: Stories about impeachment during the first three days of House impeachment hearings resulted in 32.5 million interactions (likes, comments, shares) on social media, per NewsWhip data.

  • There were 17.8 million interactions on impeachment stories during the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the Senate trial. (Note: We counted Tuesday, Jan. 21 — not Friday, Jan. 17 — as the first day of the trial for practical purposes, since that's when the first real action took place with the votes on trial rules.)
  • Of the 25 biggest stories about Trump during these three days, only three were related to impeachment.

Between the lines: It's not as if the numbers are due to the media not covering the Senate trial as much. Stories during the House hearings averaged 816 interactions per article (40k articles total) compared to 504 interactions per article (35k) during the trial.

Yes, but: This could all change if the Senate votes to call witnesses next week — though the odds of that happening are looking less and less likely.

What's happening: This dynamic shouldn't come as a surprise: The Democratic-led House was motivated to crank up interest in impeachment by making the hearings as explosive as possible.

Republicans, on the other hand, want the trial done as quickly and painlessly as possible without the opportunity for new evidence to surface or for the case against Trump to build.

  • The biggest new revelations since Trump's impeachment — the Government Accountability Office report that concluded the White House Office of Management and Budget violated the law by withholding military aid to Ukraine, and Lev Parnas’ allegation that Trump knew all about his efforts to pressure Ukraine — have happened outside the trial.
  • And don't forget that we already know the ending of this trial, thanks to Trump's red wall in the Republican-controlled Senate that makes his conviction and removal virtually impossible.
  • On the first evening of the trial, Fox News opted to air prime time opinion hosts, while CNN and MSNBC showed the trial.

The bottom line: The gravity of the charges against Trump is serious, but without something to change the dynamic — like witnesses who could provide new information, or suspense over the outcome — it hasn't been enough to keep the country hooked.

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