Second Night Of Democratic Debate Outpaces First Night In Viewers

As was the case in June, the second night of the second Democratic debate was seen by more people than the first night.

As had been the case with the first Presidential debate back in June, the second night of the debate ended up getting more viewers than the first night, but both nights were down significantly from the audience for the first debate back in June:

Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate in Detroit drew more than 10.7 million viewers — an uptick in ratings from the first night, but still a big drop from the number of people who tuned in to the party’s first debates in June.

An additional 3.1 million people watched Wednesday’s CNN-hosted debate via livestream, the network announced Thursday. The broadcast delivered on highly anticipated clashes between the race’s frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The previous evening’s debate drew 8.7 million television viewers, and 2.8 million people livestreamed the broadcast through CNN. The Tuesday night forum pitted progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts against lesser-known, more moderate White House aspirants. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who frequently ranks fifth in primary voters’ top choices for the nomination, also appeared on stage.


The third Democratic primary debate is scheduled to take place at Texas Southern University in Houston on Sept. 12-13. Due to more stringent participation standards — candidates must both amass 130,000 individual donors and achieve 2 percent support in four qualifying polls — it will likely be the first debate of the 2020 cycle to feature fewer than 20 contenders. If much of the field doesn’t qualify, that event could be limited to a single night.

More from Variety:

Last night’s second Democratic debate on CNN, which was marked by a protestor interruption and featured a rematch between California Sen. Kamala Harris and Former Vice President Joe Biden, topped the first in total viewership.

With 10.7 million, Wednesday night’s affair was up 24% on the first.

Wednesday’s debate was down 43% on NBC’s first debate which aired to 15.3 million viewers on June 26. However, it’s worth noting that both NBC debates also aired on MSNBC and Telemundo. The second NBC debate on June 27 was watched by nearly 18.1 million viewers.

None of the debates so far in this cycle have come near to the 24 million figure posted by Donald Trump’s first debate on Fox News in August of 2015. However, the feisty affair on June 27 was the most-watched Democratic primary debate in history, easily topping the first Democratic debate of the 2016 cycle, which stood at 15.7 million viewers on CNN.

As I said in my post about the ratings for the first night of this week’s debate, the decline in viewership could be due, in part at least, to the fact that this month’s debate was only available on CNN whereas June’s was available on three different NBC networks. Additionally, the fact that we’re deeper into the summer likely means that more people are on vacation or otherwise engage with activities that don’t include sitting around for two hours watching a bunch of politicians yell back and forth at each other.

In any case, the lower ratings could mean that this and future debates may not have an impact on the race that pundits believe they might. Additionally, though, it’s worth noting that the debate will still make an impression even beyond the people who actually watched it. In fact, I’d wager that the number of people who learn about the debates second hand, via news coverage on cable or over the Internet likely brings in a bigger audience than the debate itself. In any case, the next debates in September and October will be on broadcast networks so they are likely to garner bigger audiences than one that is only available on cable.

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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.