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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Opening Day of the impeachment hearings hardly hit blockbuster status, generating middling viewer interest compared with other Trump-era political hearings.

Why it matters: Democrats are banking on the public spectacle of the hearings to shift more independents and Republicans in favor of impeaching President Trump — but new data about Wednesday's hearing shows the difficulty in capturing the attention of a nation that's developed a higher tolerance for permanent political drama under the current president.

By the numbers:

  • Day One's 13 million live TV viewers fell well shy of James Comey's testimony in June 2017 (19.5m); the Christine Blasey Ford/Brett Kavanaugh hearing from September 2018 (20m); and the Michael Cohen hearing in February (16m).
  • The impeachment hearing, which featured some newsy testimony from Bill Taylor and George Kent, generated 7 million social media interactions on Wednesday, according to data from social analytics company NewsWhip.
  • That's higher than the 6 million for Comey on the day of his testimony but shy of the 8 million for Robert Mueller's testimony -- and way below the 18 million for the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing.

Yes, but: While the other events were confined to a single day of viewing, the public impeachment hearings will play out over many days. It's unclear whether that could scatter viewership, or build interest over time.

Between the lines: A number of factors may be working to suppress viewer interest.

  • The outcome of the impeachment saga appears predictable and predetermined at this point: The Democratic-led House will impeach and the Republican-led Senate will acquit.
  • The testimonies are largely known ahead of time: Witnesses have already been deposed during hours-long questioning and the transcripts released. The information that comes out in public isn't expected to change much. The main difference is that it's being televised rather than playing out behind closed doors.
  • Media echo chambers mean there are few facts and narratives agreed upon by the left and the right.
  • The witnesses weren't household names until the last month, making them unfamiliar — and less interesting — to many Americans.
  • Americans could be experiencing hearing fatigue after sitting through the day-long slog for other high-profile Trump-era testimonies.
  • The daytime airing prevents many potential viewers from being able to tune in.

The bottom line: While public hearings may be Democrats' best chance to shift the status quo, 81% of voters say their opinions about impeachment already are mostly set.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Second senior Matt Gaetz aide resigns amid federal investigation

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) walking out of the Capitol in January 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Devin Murphy, Rep. Matt Gaetz's legislative director, has stepped down amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations against the Florida Republican congressman, the New York Times first reported and Axios has confirmed.

The latest: "It's been real," Murphy wrote in an email, obtained by Axios, to Republican legislative directors on Saturday morning, with the subject line: "Well...bye."

Rep. Dan Crenshaw says he'll be blind for a month after eye surgery

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) in Washington, D.C., in December 2020. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said in a statement Saturday he will be blind for roughly a month after getting surgery to reattach the retina in left eye.

Why it matters: Crenshaw, who lost his right eye and sustained severe damage to his left eye during his third deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, said he will be "pretty much off the grid for the next few weeks."