After less than two weeks to recover, re-strategize, and re-sharpen their wit, the GOP 2016 Presidential hopefuls will be back at it tonight. This time taking the stage in Milwaukee, the eight frontrunners will vie for America’s affection during the joint Fox Business Channel / Wall Street Journal face off. If this the previous three debates are any indication, tonight’s show will attract record viewership. By that same logic, though, it will also attract far fewer viewers than any of those prior debates. With 24 million, 23 million, and 14 million viewers respectively, each subsequent debate has drawn significantly less interest than its predecessor. It’s a distinct enough trend to make one wonder if the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility is at play.
Ah yes, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, that bane of introductory level economics students everywhere. According the Investopedia, it can be described as “a law of economics stating that as a person increases consumption of a product, while keeping consumption of other products constant, there is a decline in the marginal utility that person derives from consuming each additional unit of that product.” Essentially, it’s why the first bite of that BigMac tastes divine while the last bite has you questioning your poor life choices. So are Americans already getting bored with the debate cycle at large, or are they just fatigued by the 2016 GOP primary race turned marathon?
Of course, three debates does not a suitable sample size make. There are any number of confounds that could be skewing the viewership statistics, from which network is hosting to the time of year. But if you’re anything like us, tonight’s debate just doesn’t have the same appeal as the original Fox News faceoff (or for that matter, CNN’s Hillary vs. Bernie Show.) Sure, Trump is certain to liven it up with a few outrageous one-liners. Aside from that, though, what earth-shattering policy innovations / enlightenments have the past 13 days brought? At this point it’ll likely be less about savoring that secret sauce and more about convincing ourselves to get back in the gym.
Of course, we could be completely wrong. The 2008 Democratic debates saw a spike in attention as the field narrowed despite the number of debates going well into the double digits. It’s entirely possible that tonight’s verbal cage match will gain draw a 20+ million audience. But can that interest really be sustained for another six (or more) debates? As with many things in life, only time will tell.