Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer after their response to President Trump's TV address on border-wall funding at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 8. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Democratic response to President Trump's prime-time border wall speech Tuesday drew a bigger TV audience than what it was responding to — the opposite of usual viewing patterns.

All major news outlets aired Trump's 15-minute speech at 9pm Eastern, followed by a 15-minute Democratic rebuttal given by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Overnight ratings for the combined seven networks showed that Trump's speech drew a 28.1 rating and 45 share of the total TV audience, while the Pelosi/Schumer response got a 29.3 rating and 47 share, about 4 percent higher.

Fortune magazine noted that the increase was unusual; opposition response to a presidential speech usually draws lower viewership. "People gradually tune out during a presidential address, making the higher ratings more striking, even if the numbers were just slightly above the president’s speech," it reported.

 

On CNN, MSNBC and ABC, Pelosi and Schumer rated higher than Trump. On NBC, Fox and Fox News, the two speeches' ratings were equal. Trump only earned higher ratings on CBS.

During his speech, Trump repeated a number of anti-immigrant factual distortions to argue in support of his border wall, which Democrats have refused to fund, leading to a partial government shutdown which is now in its 18th day. Democrats argue that Trump is holding government workers hostage to get his way and that he should sign a continuing resolution to reopen the government, at which point border security policy could be discussed.

"The wall" was an early campaign promise of Trump's — which the New York Times reported this week began life as a mnemonic device so Trump would remember to talk about border security — yet the president failed to convince a Republican-controlled House and Senate to fund its construction. Now that the House is in Democratic control, Trump's chances of fully funding the barrier are even slimmer.

Critics say Trump's allegation of a crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border is invented. Statistics show the number of border crossings is at its lowest level in 45 years.

A recent Politico poll found that only 44 percent of Americans support the construction of a border wall. Even if the wall were popular, 65 percent of Americans said Trump shouldn't shut down the government to fund it.

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