One of the things I wonder about when right-wing radio hosts force the resignation of government officials or when the Washington Post admits it takes conservative criticism more seriously than liberal criticism is the extent to which right-wing radio influences American politics and media coverage. I *do* believe that reporters and editors are keenly aware that if they piss off the right, it means all of Rush’s 15 million listeners will be on their ass, whereas any reaction from the left will be more diffuse. On the other hand, right-wing radio waged an anti-McCain jihad in the 2008 Republican primaries, to no avail. I happen to believe things would have been different in 2008 if the official candidate of right-wing radio hadn’t been a Harvard-educated Mormom millionaire who bragged about shooting varmints, so we’ll see if things are different in 2012.
I decided to look at some numbers about the portion of conservatives who listen to right-wing radio. According to Arbitron Rush Limbaugh has an audience of about 14 million viewers, with Hannity at 13 and Beck at 8. There’s a lot of overlap in the audiences, buti it’s probably safe to say that the total number of people who listen to one or more of these shows regularly is over 20 million. It’s probably also safe to assume that nearly all of the listeners are over the age of 18, i.e. are of voting age, and that nearly all identify as conservative. The total number of Americans of voting age is around 230 million. The proportion of Americans who identify as conservative is about 34%, so that means the number of self-described conservatives of voting age is just under 80 million. Thus, around a quarter (a maybe more) of conservatives of voting age listen to right-wing radio regularly.
That’s a pretty astounding number. It means that Republican officials are in no position to criticize Rush, Beck at al. without paying political consequences.