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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 21 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.

In photos: Biden visits collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh

President Biden and the Mayor of Pittsburgh Ed Gainey visit the scene of the Forbes Avenue Bridge collapse over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 28, 2022. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Friday visited the site of the collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh.

Driving the news: "I’ve been coming to Pittsburgh a long time,” Biden said, adding that there are more bridges than any other city in the world. "And we’re going to fix them all," he said, per a White House pool reporter.