UPDATE: An estimated 73.1 million people watched the first presidential debate of 2020, a huge audience but still short of the blockbuster audience for the initial matchup four years ago.
The numbers are from Nielsen and include 16 networks.
The total viewers for the debate might not have matched the last cycle, but they still were impressive. Only two other debates in the past 45 years have drawn more viewers: In 2016 and in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter met for their only matchup. That debate drew 80.6 million viewers.
PREVIOUSLY: An estimated 67.4 million TV viewers watched the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump across eight networks Tuesday night, a total that likely to rise as final numbers are released later Wednesday.
But the total is likely to still fall short of the gangbuster ratings for the first presidential debate in 2016, when an estimated 84 million watched Trump meet Hillary Clinton for the first time.
The viewership — which are Nielsen figures released by Fox News — is still a huge audience. It is in line with the viewership of the first presidential debate in 2012, when an estimated 67.2 million watched.
Fox News was the top network, drawing 17.8 million, followed by ABC with 12.6 million, NBC with 9.7 million and CNN with 8.3 million. Among viewers in the 25-54 news demographic, Fox News was on top with 5.3 million, followed by ABC with 4.9 million, NBC with 4.1 million and CNN with 3.5 million.
Fox News said it was the highest-rated presidential debate in cable news history. A record 24 million viewers watched a Fox News primary debate between Trump and other GOP contenders in 2015.
Ever the ratings watcher, Trump touted the numbers for Tuesday’s debate. He wrote, “HIGHEST CABLE TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. SECOND HIGHEST OVERALL TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. Some day these Fake Media Companies are going to miss me, very badly!!!”
HIGHEST CABLE TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. SECOND HIGHEST OVERALL TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. Some day these Fake Media Companies are going to miss me, very badly!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2020
The debate was known for its chaos. Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden, bypassing the debate rules. An exasperated moderator Chris Wallace tried to rein Trump in, but the president continued to flout the debate rules.
“I’ve read some of the reviews, I know people think, Well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,” Wallace told The New York Times on Wednesday. “I guess I didn’t realize — and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20 — that this was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate.”