Bad headlines for Trump also means rough stretch for Hannity

NEW YORK (AP) — The drumbeat of bad news for President Donald Trump hasn't been good for his most prominent backer in the media.

While Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity will end 2018 as cable news' most popular personality, he's been slumping in the ratings since the midterm elections and ominous stories related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the president.

His show averaged 2.76 million viewers since the election through Dec. 17, down 19 percent compared to the previous month, the Nielsen company said. Among the 25-to-54-year-old demo most coveted by advertisers, he's down 30 percent. Competitors Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Chris Cuomo on CNN are up in each measurement.

Maddow has been beating Hannity outright in December, a turnaround from October. During that month, when Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation drama dominated the news, Hannity's audience routinely exceeded Maddow's by about a million people each night, Nielsen said.

"I think it's a reflection of the mood of his audience," said Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of Hofstra University's communications school and a longtime NBC executive. "They can't be happy with what is coming out of Washington every day."

Hannity has been associated with Trump perhaps more than any other media figure. He was scolded by Fox for being called onstage by the president and speaking during a Trump rally shortly before midterm election. The Pew Research Center found in a 2014 survey that 83 percent of Hannity's viewers identified themselves as conservative.

With bad news piling up for Trump, Hannity frequently spends time criticizing ideological opponents in the media for the types of stories they emphasize, and discusses misdeeds by previous Democratic administrations.

"Even hard-core Trump fans are starting to put Hillary Clinton in their rear-view mirrors and say, 'it's been two years,'" Lukasiewicz said.

Fox News declined comment for this story.

There's precedent for a news-related slump. Maddow's ratings sank sharply just after the 2016 election, as fans distressed by Trump's win took a timeout from the news. Her ratings steadily improved as her show became a destination for Trump opponents.

Ken LaCorte, a former Fox News executive who spent 20 years at the network, cautioned against reading too much into a few weeks of ratings. Pulling back for a broader view, Hannity's show will be the most popular on cable news for the second year in a row, with an average of 3.3 million viewers that is up 17 percent over 2017, according to Nielsen.

It's certainly possible that Republicans have been less interested in the news lately, said LaCorte, who is launching a news web site, LaCortenews.com, next month .

"It's probably more interesting to hear about the party you support taking over the House of Representatives because there are more interesting things to discuss," he said.

Related: Sean Hannity through the years:

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Sean Hannity through the years

Fox News host Sean Hannity is seen in the White House briefing room in Washington, DC, on January 24, 2017.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 19: Political commentator Sean Hannity speaks during 'Vegas Strong - A Night of Healing' at the Orleans Arena on October 19, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The concert benefits people affected by the October 1, 2017, mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival when Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured more than 500 after he opened fire on the crowd. The massacre is one of the deadliest mass shooting events in U.S. history. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: TV personality Sean Hannity attends The Hollywood Reporter's 35 Most Powerful People In Media 2017 at The Pool on April 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Pundit Sean Hannity attends 'The Hollywood Reporter's 35 Most Powerful People In Media 2017' at The Pool on April 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Arianna Huffington (L) and Sean Hannity attend The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media 2017 at The Pool on April 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter)

Conservative TV and radio personality Sean Hannity gestures during remarks during the opening day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of conservative politicians, journalists and celebrities at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 22, 2017.

(REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

Fox News television personality and political commentator Sean Hannity speaks with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, January 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Spicer held his second daily briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Conservative TV and radio personality Sean Hannity (R) welcomes White House advisor Kellyanne Conway to his show being broadcast during the opening day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of conservative politicians, journalists and celebrities, at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S. February 22, 2017.

(REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

Sean Hannity of Fox News takes a selfie with Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz and a young fan during a campaign event at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix, Arizona March 18, 2016.

(REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec)

Sean Hannity attends day 6 of the 2016 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 3, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City.

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/GC Images)

Jeb Bush speaks while being interviewed by Fox News TV host Sean Hannity (L) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland February 27, 2015.

9REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

WWII Veteran Jack ten Napel, Sean Hannity, and Kirt Webster attend the Charlie Daniels 2015 Volunteer Jam at Bridgestone Arena on August 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Webster Public Relations)

Sean Hannity (R) interviews former Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and his daughter Liz Cheney (C) regarding their new book at FOX News Channel's 'Hannity at FOX Studios on August 31, 2015 in New York City.

(Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

Sean Hannity attends as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination At The Freedom Tower at Freedom Tower on April 13, 2015 in Miami, Florida.

(Photo by Larry Marano/FilmMagic)

Fox News Channel anchor Sean Hannity poses for photographs as he sits on the set of his show "Hannity" at the Fox News Channel's studios in New York City, October 28, 2014.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Willie Robertson and Sean Hannity attend day 11 of the 2014 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 4, 2014 in New York City.

(Photo by Uri Schanker/GC Images)

Fox News Channel anchor Sean Hannity poses for photographs as he sits on the set of his show "Hannity" at the Fox News Channel's studios in New York City, October 28, 2014.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain, Sean Hannity conservative talk show host, Honoree Neal Boortz and Comedian Jeff Foxworthy backstage for The Boortz Happy Ending at The Fox Theater on January 12, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for WSB Radio)

Jeff Foxworthy and Sean Hannity during the FOX News 'Hannity with Sean Hannity' 15th anniversary show at Olympic Centennial Park on October 6, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.

(Photo by Chris McKay/Getty Images)

Sean Hannity speaks during the 5th Annual Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on September 17, 2010 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Kris Connor/WireImage)

Talk show host Sean Hannity (left) shakes hands with Roy Innis, National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, during the 21st annual CORE Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ambassadorial Awards Dinner at the New York Hilton Hotel & Towers.

(Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Sean Hannity and Larry Elder during Sean Hannity ABC Radio Show West Coast Broadcast at Redondo Beach Performing Art Center in Redondo Beach, California, United States.

(Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage)

ABC Radio talk host Sean Hannity does his show live in front of an audience as Talkradio 790 KABC presents the 'Hannitization Tour '03 Sean Hannity Live!' at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on March 6, 2003 in Redondo Beach, California.

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Hannity also has company. Fox's prime-time schedule as a whole, which also includes Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, has been down 20 percent since the election, Nielsen said.

Even with Fox's recent slump, the Trump administration continues to be glory days for cable news. Fox News Channel is the top-rated network for all of basic cable for the third year in a row, topping ESPN, and will finish with the highest-rated prime-time schedule in its history. That comes despite losing Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly from its lineup over the past two years.

MSNBC is third overall in basic cable, and is also on pace to finish with the biggest audience in its history, Nielsen said. CNN will finish 11th, and is likely to finish with its third-best year ever.

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