Just days before the first actual vote of the 2016 Presidential primaries, the seventh GOP debate of this election cycle wasn’t the total ratings disaster that boycotter Donald Trump predicted. Airing on Fox News Channel last night at 9 PM ET as the leading Republican candidate held his own event down the road in Iowa, the Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace moderated debate snared 12.5 million viewers, with 3.5 million among the news demo of 25-54.
While a 48% drop from the record breaking 24 million viewers that the first GOP debate pulled in for FNC on August 6 last year, last night was the second highest rated telecast FNC has had in its 20-year history and was easily the most watched show on TV, both broadcast and cable. In fact, with additional strong performances from The O’Reilly Factor, an 11 PM The Kelly File, The Five, a midnight Hannity plus some pre-debate coverage, FNC had seven of the top 10 shows in cable last night.
And counter-progamming of Trump’s veterans rally didn’t really lay a glove on the Roger Ailes run cable newser. CNN had 1.7 million total viewers during the 9 – 11 PM ET duration of the GOP debate while MSNBC had about 1 million. Both cable news networks carried portions of Trump’s event and talking heads chatter over the two hours.
Also, last night’s Trump-free conclave was not the worst the Republicans have done so far. The January 15 debate on sister station Fox Business Network drew 11 million total viewers with 3 million in the 25-54s. The previous low for the GOP had been the 13.45 million viewers of their fourth debate of last November, which was also on FBN and the most watched show the channel had ever had.
Of course, with the ex-Apprentice host as the main attraction for every debate but last night’s, the Republicans are still getting a lot more eyeballs that their political party rivals. While the first Democratic debate of October 13, 2015 had an audience of 15.8 million for CNN, including Trump who live tweeted it, that was well below the 23 million who watched the Republicans on CNN on September 16 last year. It was also down from the 18.16 million who watched the fifth GOP debate, which was also hosted by CNN.
Overall, with weekend airings, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have been getting just over 8 million viewers in subsequent debates. However, the fourth and most recent Democratic debate,which aired on NBC on January 17, a Sunday, bopped up a bit to draw 10.16 million viewers. The Dems will be getting back together for another debate on MSNBC on February 4, three days after the Iowa Caucuses.