First Democratic Presidential Debate Draws 15 Million Viewers


Last night’s Democratic debate didn’t have Donald Trump to draw in viewers like the first two Republican debates have had, but it still managed to post some pretty respectable viewership numbers:

More than 15 million people tuned in to CNN to watch the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate on Tuesday night, according to Nielsen ratings data provided by the network.

The audience for the debate was nearly two-thirds the size of the two earlier Republican presidential debates, but it was the highest rating ever for a Democratic presidential primary debate — signaling continued interest in the 2016 race.

The previous record for a Democratic presidential debate was set by the 2008 debate in Philadelphia, which averaged 10.7 million viewers for ABC. Tuesday’s debate in Las Vegas, which was moderated by Anderson Cooper, averaged 15.3 million total viewers.

CNN also streamed the debate on its website,, mobile apps and Apple TV, where usage peaked at 980,000 concurrent streams at 10:20 p.m. That beat the network’s live stream of the Republican debate last month, which, at its peak, had 921,000 streams viewed at one time.

These numbers are less than the August debate broadcast by Fox News Channel, which garnered some 24 million viewers, or the second Republican debate on CNN, which had some 23.1 million viewers, but it’s still far more than I think most people were expecting, especially considering the fact that there were high-profile baseball playoffs being broadcast on TBS at the same time. If nothing else, this would seem to suggest that the high numbers that we saw in the first two GOP debates isn’t just about the presence of Donald Trump on the stage, but that there are a lot of people out there who are highly interested in the 2016 election at a very early point in the cycle. Whether that will keep up as we get into the weeds of the campaign, of course, remains to be seen.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    That’s surprising and heartening.

  2. dmhlt says:

    Add in the factor that two ginormous Democratic markets – LA & NYC – were likely busy watching a baseball game.

  3. David M says:

    I am relieved it was a respectable number, to indicate some interest in the primary. I’m fine with the clowns on the right shouting over each other, but I don’t want it overshadowing the Democratic side to the point it’s potentially damaging.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:


    And Chicago.

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    @David M: That´s why I argued that limiting the debates was a bad idea.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    I heard today that CNN was expecting 7 million.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    I heard today that CNN was expecting 7 million.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    It’s the difference between watching a smooth part of the highway and watching a 150-car pileup caused by 14 guys with varying BACs over the legal limit.

    Just because they’re entertaining in a sick sense of the term doesn’t mean you want to be on the same road with them.

    And now that I’ve totally mangled my metaphors….

  9. Tyrell says:

    @Ron Beasley: It was CNN’s version of “Trivial Pursuit”.
    People watching in other countries probably thought it was a comedy game show. It also resembled an update version of the old quiz shows “To Tell the Truth” and “I’ve Got a Secret”.
    I will admit that it did have a lot of comedy. You can’t watch any of the debates without laughing a lot. A better moderator would be Jay Leno or Letterman. Imagine their comments concerning the answers the politicians gave.
    They can’t make up a comedy show as good as what we have seen the last two months.