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Breaking down Oprah's numbers

From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
Can sleet, snow, and ice keep them away? Will Obama surge in the polls after appearing with the woman who seems to have a golden touch? Just how powerful will the Oprah Effect really be? These are just a few of the questions that those of us in the media will try to answer this weekend while chasing after Obama and Oprah through Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.

In order to understand just how many people Oprah could reach and perhaps influence, NBC News contacted Nielsen to get ratings and demographic information on just who watches Oprah Winfrey nationally, and also in the early states of Iowa and South Carolina. Since New Hampshire is included in the Boston media market, an accurate picture of just how many people watch Oprah in the Granite State could not be drawn.

Oprah's audience is predominantly female, white, and over the age of 55. Nationally 7.4 million people watch Oprah daily -- about 2.6% of American households. Four percent of American women (about 5.7 million) watch her daily, compared with 1.2% of men (1.7 million people). Overall, 2% of all 18- to 49-year-olds watch Oprah.

Oprah has the highest ratings among older Americans -– a critical caucusing or voting block. 3.7 million people age 55 and older watch Oprah, and 2.7 million of these individuals are women. Eleven percent of all older black women watch Oprah, and 7% of all older white women watch the show everyday.  

Oprah's audience is also predominantly white: 5.9 million of whites watch Oprah, compared with 1.4 million blacks. Her reach among the Hispanic population is tiny -- only about 230,000 Hispanics watch the show daily. 

But what about in the early primary states? Across Iowa's four major media markets, 56,000 households watch Oprah everyday. In the Des Moines/Ames media market, 32,000 of 407,000 (or 7.7%) of all households in the Des Moines area have Oprah playing on their TV sets between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm every day. To put that number in context, consider that only about 150,000 people in the state caucused in the last primary.

In the Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque media market, 18,000 of 339,000 households in the area (5.4%) watch Oprah. 

Both the Cedar Rapids and Des Moines markets reflect the largest concentration of people and Democrats in Iowa. Across other parts of the state, 5.9% of homes in the Sioux City area watch Oprah and in Davenport and Moline in the eastern part of the state, 4.6% of homes watch the show.

In South Carolina, Oprah is even more popular. In the Columbia area, where Oprah and Obama will appear together on Sunday afternoon at an 80,000 seat arena, 30,000 households have the channel set to the Oprah Winfrey show daily. That's about 8% of the 384,000 households in the area.