Politico

Final debate ratings lag first showdown, 2016 numbers


About 63 million viewers tuned in for Thursday’s presidential debate — a marked drop from the over 73 million who watched the candidates face off in September.

The viewership is also a decrease across the board from 2016, when over 71 million people tuned in for the final presidential debate and over 84 million for the first, according to estimates by Nielsen released Friday. The second presidential debate that year garnered over 66.5 million views.

The second presidential debate was canceled this year after President Donald Trump tested positive for coronavirus. He and Democratic candidate Joe Biden opted instead for simultaneous town halls broadcast by NBC News and ABC respectively.

Those combined events garnered far fewer total views than the second presidential debate in 2016, with each event getting around 14 million viewers (with Biden’s viewership slightly higher than Trump’s).

But as events hosted by networks rather than the Commission on Presidential Debates, they were broadcast on fewer channels. Trump’s town hall was shown on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, while Biden’s was shown on ABC. Thursday’s debate was shown on all the major cable and network news channels.

Nielsen’s figures includes traditional TV as well as streaming on mobile devices and computers — which can comprise up to 11 percent of viewers.

Thursday’s presidential debate was a stark contrast to the bombast of the candidates’ first showdown last month. The candidates had their microphones muted during portions of the event to prevent interruptions, and Trump and Biden largely avoided the cross-talk that marred their prior debate.

The majority of viewers felt that Biden won the debate, with 54 percent saying as such in a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll released Friday. Some 39 percent said Trump won. Respondents were also far more receptive to Thursday’s debate than last month’s, with nearly 70 percent saying they enjoyed watching the final event.

About 47 million votes had already been cast by the end of the day Thursday, according to the U.S. Election Project.

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