The second and final presidential debate in 2020 between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was a bit bigger and far more polite than the first debate last month.
However, the early ratings for Thursday’s duel are a huge drop from the audience of the first debate.
Last night’s event drew a total of 57.4 million viewers across seven networks – ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and PBS, according to preliminary Nielsen data. Those numbers will be adjusted tonight (and this story will be updated) as additional ad data comes in from other networks.
Those later numbers include off-home television and on-line television, which can increase audience ratings for political events on television like Thursday’s debate by more than 10%.
As of now, those early numbers represent a 21% decrease from the 73.1 million viewers who saw the September 29 debate. This was the second most popular debate of all time, after just Trump’s first debate against Hillary Clinton in 2016, which attracted 84 million viewers.
Compared to the final presidential debate of the 2016 campaign, which attracted 71.6 million viewers, the total number of viewers had fallen by 20% last night. And compared to the campaign’s second presidential debate in 2016 (which drew 67 million viewers but was not broadcast by NBC due to the network’s commitments to Sunday Night Football), the event’s total viewership decreased by 14% last night.
The levy isn’t particularly surprising for a number of reasons. The first was the first debate against Thursday Night Football, which aired on Fox last night. Second, many Americans have already voted. Third, after 73 million viewers during the first debate (which CNN’s Dana Bash referred to as a “shitshow”), many doubted a repeat last night.
Still 57.4 million is nothing to make fun of, and that number will increase significantly later today. We’re going to see this move roughly in the 60 to 65 million viewer range. and that audience is far larger than what the contestants attracted during their recently televised town halls.
The debate has more than doubled the combined ratings of last week’s Trump and Biden duel shows, which took place in place of the second scheduled presidential debate. Together, the two television programs brought a total of 27 million viewers.
Here’s a breakdown of ratings for the broadcast and cable networks, both overall viewers and adults 25-54, who are most sought after by news marketers:
Fox News: 14.7 million total viewers, 4.16 million in the demo
ABC: 10.7 million viewers in total, 3.85 million in the demo
NBC: 10.2 million total viewers, 3.91 million in the demo
CNN: 7.2 million viewers in total, 2.85 million in the demo
MSNBC: 6.7 million total viewers, 1.50 million in the demo
CBS: 5.5 million viewers in total, 1.95 million in the demo
PBS: 2.4 million viewers in total
For the third consecutive debate (and the second consecutive presidential debate), Fox News had an average of 14.7 million viewers, the largest audience of any network that broadcast the event. However, that number is down 17% from the cable news record of 17.8 million viewers who saw the live coverage of the first presidential debate.
Fox News also beat the competition when it came to the 25-54 demo, making nearly 4.2 million.
ABC and NBC share second place. ABC rededicated its entire three-hour primetime schedule to debating coverage (which was consistently done throughout the debating season), averaging nearly 10.8 million viewers, just behind Fox News.
NBC averaged nearly 10.2 million viewers, but averaged more adults between 25 and 54 than any other network except Fox News (3.9 million).