Third Democratic Debate Draws 14 Million Viewers
After falling for the second debate, ratings were back near record levels for the third debate.
Thursday night’s third Presidential debate saw a return to the viewership levels that we saw during the first debate back in June, perhaps indicating that the perceived drop in interest reflected in the numbers for the second debate was more related to the fact that the debate occurred during the height of the summer travel season than any indication that people were beginning to lose interest in the race:
More than 14 million people tuned in Thursday for the clash of 10 presidential candidates in Houston on ABC News and Univision, the second-largest audience to date for a Democratic primary debate.
Only the NBC News debate in June, which drew 18.1 million viewers on its second night, outranked it. And total viewership on Thursday was likely far higher, since Nielsen figures do not count online audiences and livestreams.
Broadcasts of primary debates are, foremost, a civic service, offering voters an unexpurgated view of the candidates. But they also serve as tent pole events for the media organizations that sponsor them, a chance to showcase journalism and burnish the brand in front of some of the biggest audiences in news.
These numbers are comparable to the numbers we saw for the first and second nights of the first debate back at the end of June, and much better than the numbers for either the first or second night. Another reason for the higher ratings for Thursday night, of course, is the fact that it was the first time that we saw all the major candidates on the stage at the same time. Whatever the reason, though, it seems clear that interest in the 2020 election remains high, and is likely to increase as we get closer to the start of voting on February 3rd.
In addition to the viewership numbers, we also learned yesterday about the details of the next debate:
The New York Times and CNN will co-host the next Democratic debate near Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, with the possibility of a second round one night later depending on how many candidates meet the qualifying criteria.
The Democratic National Committee announced Friday that the debate would be held in Westerville, Ohio, on the campus of Otterbein University. The moderators will be the CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett as well as The Times’s National editor, Marc Lacey.
So far 11 candidates have qualified for the CNN/New York Times debate — the 10 Democrats who appeared in Thursday night’s debate on ABC, as well as the businessman Tom Steyer, who recently qualified for the next one. Other candidates have until the end of the day on Oct. 1 to meet the qualifying standards.
The criteria for October are the same as those for September: Candidates must have 130,000 unique donors and register at least 2 percent support in four qualifying polls.
In addition to Steyer, the debate will also include the ten candidates who were on the stage Thursday night. As for other candidates, the only candidates who appear to have the potential to qualify for the October debate are Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and motivational speaker Marianne Williamson. Both of these candidates have reached the donor threshold but have yet to reach the polling threshold. If they do, then debate planners will have to decide at that point whether to break the fourth debate up into two nights or allow a one-night debate with 13 candidates on the stage. Personally, I’d prefer the later.