Don't have cable? Forget about watching tonight's presidential debate

Posted at 11:42 AM, Aug 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-06 11:42:03-04

When 10 popular Republican presidential candidates face off in a nationally televised debate tonight, millions of potential voters won’t have the chance to hear them speak.

The first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign will air on Fox News Channel and will stream at — but online viewing is only open for cable television subscribers. The unavailability of a free, legal online stream of the debate means the Republican Party will miss out on a valuable chance to present its message to a legion of cord-cutting Millennials.

This screenshot shows what users see if they try to watch Fox News Channel live online. (2015 - Clint Davis)

That’s a generation of people the GOP can scarcely afford to alienate, according to research. A 2014 Pew survey declared, “The GOP’s Millennial problem runs deep,” citing numbers showing only 34 percent of Millennials identified as Republicans.

The same study found 50 percent identified as Democrats and that “Millennials are considerably more liberal than other generations.”

The number of households that either never subscribed to cable or have stopped subscribing has risen steadily in recent years. An analysis from Experian estimated that 7.6 million households made the decision to live without cable in a three-year period ending in 2014. Other studies have shown that a lot of those people are Millennials.

ComScore research from 2014 found that about a quarter of all TV viewers ages 18 to 34 didn’t subscribe to cable. Forty-six percent of those people never had cable to begin with.

If the GOP plans to reach young voters the way Barack Obama successfully did in his 2008 election, it’s likely that cable TV debates won’t be the way to do it.

Fox News Channel and the Republican National Committee have not replied after being contacted for comment on the possibility of a free online stream of tonight’s debate.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.

Further coverage of tonight’s GOP debate:

Podcast: What to expect from Donald Trump in tonight’s debate