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The great late night ratings race is generally one that’s pretty easy to keep tabs on. Usually there’s one late night host who is consistently ahead in the ratings, and in recent years The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has earned the biggest audience. This year, Stephen Colbert entered the game, and while he had a really great opening week, The Late Show has struggled in the ratings, since, even losing to Jimmy Kimmel's show some weeks. A recent poll of late night watchers has revealed there might be an interesting reason behind Colbert’s faltering ratings: He’s taken a political bent, and he has trouble earning fans on both sides of the political spectrum.
In a recent poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland and THR, surveyors were asked questions regarding which late night hosts they watched and why, with questions also including favorite TV programs, churchgoing habits and political affiliations. The findings revealed that while Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel bring in a large percentage from both sides of the political spectrum, Stephen Colbert mostly appeals to Democrats. In the study, only 17% of Colbert watchers also happen to be Republicans, while 47% of Colbert watchers happen to self-identify as Democrats (the rest identify are Independents). In comparison, Jimmy Kimmel Live! is comprised of 34% Democrats and 33% Republicans (the rest identify are Independents). The Late Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is 36% Democrat and 31% Republican (the rest are Independents), which is a slightly bigger discrepancy than Kimmel, but still pretty equally split among the parties.
The fact of the matter is: Stephen Colbert has had a much higher political bent than the other two major late night hosts since he has started his tenure on The Late Show. It’s honestly been a interesting niche and a bit different than what Fallon and Kimmel are offering, but it looks like conservatives have felt he’s been tougher on the Republicans appearing on the show than on the Democrats, and it looks like those same Republicans are no longer giving the series a shot. When you get political, it’s hard not to lean a bit in one direction or the other, even when you are trying your very best to be fair and bring in Star Wars references at the same time.
It's also just difficult to take a political bent. When you’re trying to compete in late night, you don’t want to be niche, you have to appeal to as broad of a demographic as possible. That’s why Jimmy Fallon plays a ton of fun, low-key games with celebrities, a concept a huge chunk of the population can get on board with. That’s why Jimmy Kimmel often has guests from other ABC shows come on to make announcements, because a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life and political viewpoints watch ABC dramas. It’s not niche, it’s broad. And Colbert, despite arguably being the best interviewer of the three, has focused a lot more on politics (well that, and cat circuses). The result is that not everyone wants to tune in to watch a more political late-night program, shaving off some viewers.
I’m not saying Colbert should or even has the capacity to change the political nature of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert—his outlook in the political spectrum is what makes him a really great alternative to the other late night hosts. But he’s going to need to eventually find a way to make his show a whole lot friendlier to those who might choose to vote conservatively as well as liberally. Otherwise that point split is not going to help him beat Jimmy Kimmel in the ratings in the long run.