Viewership For First Presidential Debate Drops 13% From 2016

Topline

More than 73 million people watched Tuesday night’s presidential debate, according to Nielsen ratings, a large audience that still represented a 13% drop from the record-breaking first debate of 2016.

Key Facts

The debate drew 73.1 million total viewers across broadcast networks, cable channels and some streaming services.

Fox News led the networks with an audience of 17.8 million, followed by ABC and NBC, according to data obtained by Deadline and TV Newser.

By comparison, the first debate of 2016 netted 84 million viewers, making it the most watched U.S. presidential debate in history.

Tuesday’s face-off between President Trump and Joe Biden outpaced the second and third debates of 2016, which amassed 66.5 million and 71.6 million viewers respectively, and it drew larger ratings than any other debate since 1980.

Some, but not all, online streaming services are included in Nielsen ratings, so changing viewer habits could mean Tuesday’s audience was even larger.

Key Background

The debate was widely criticized by viewers and pundits alike. Viewers felt the debate was overrun by out-of-control interruptions and insults, most of which were lobbed by Trump.

Tangent

Trump appeared satisfied with the debate, even though pundits and politicians were largely critical of his performance. He told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he got “tremendous reviews,” and he later bragged on Twitter about the debate’s Nielsen ratings.

Big Number

17%. That’s the percentage of viewers who said the debate made them feel informed, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll conducted Tuesday night. Some 69% said they were annoyed by the debate. All told, 48% of viewers felt that Biden won the debate, compared to 41% who gave Trump high marks.

Further Reading

Presidential Debate Viewership Falls From 2016 To 73.1 Million; Fox News Tops Ratings (Deadline)

84 million is the number to beat for tonight’s debate to set a ratings record (New York Times)

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