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.

FILED UNDER: Bernie Sanders, Economics and Business, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Politicians, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Teve says:

    After Last Night’s Debate, We’re in a Two-Person Race

    538 has some interesting charts showing who did well and who did poorly at last night’s debate. Here’s one that shows before and after from a single panel of likely voters:

    I suppose I’m glad to see that my instincts were mostly confirmed. Of the top-tier candidates, Warren did well and Harris did poorly. Another chart shows that Julián Castro’s dig at Biden’s memory was disastrous for him. The only (minor) surprise to me is that Andrew Yang scored slightly positively.

    For the time being, this is basically a two-person race. Sanders has never been a serious contender, no matter what the polling says, and Harris is slowly slipping into oblivion. It’s Biden vs. Warren.

    pretty chart at the link

  2. Guarneri says:

    “It’s Biden vs. Warren.”

    For anyone with a sober view, it’s been that way since the start. But Biden is a rudderless, opportunistic lunatic, and Warren can’t win in the Midwest.

    Gabbard is the only good candidate you have, and the powers that be are running her out of town. That speaks volumes.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Gabbard is the only good candidate you have,

    Taking your cues from still? That’s what speaks volumes.

  4. Teve says:

    Teve says:
    Friday, September 13, 2019 at 17:12
    There are a weird number of trolls on Social Media pushing Tulsi Gabbard. Wonder what Vlad is up to.

    Looks like “manipulating idiots” was the answer. 😛

  5. al Ameda says:

    My take:
    Clear loser: Julian Castro, everyone who watched cringed.
    Drew negatives: Harris
    Solid positive performance(s): Warren, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Yang
    Net Zero: The rest of the field. A few ups, a few downs.

    Also, Biden’s segment, where he recounted his life experience and his resilience in the face of two personal tragedies showed us why Biden is effective when he’s out there meeting the people, his humanity comes through. As clunky as he is, people do like him.

    Andrew Yang now polls at 2.6%, up from 1%, and maybe he goes no higher, but I like him quite a bit because he’s not busy attacking the others, he’s offering a look at toward the future and what we ought to seriously consider, what we need to do. He’s looking ahead, not in the rear view mirror.

    He won’t be the nominee, I understand that, but he’s easily my favorite candidate. Because I am reality-based I will vote for any of these people over Trump.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    What is this right-wing fascination with Gabbard? It’s like if back in 2016 the Democrats were concern trolling the GOP about, say, Rand Paul…totally bizarre and totally ridiculous…

  7. Victor says:

    @Guarneri: So true about Gabbard. She has great support left , right and center, and the DNC and their media acolytes do all they can to keep her away from the public. Dumb people…she will continue to rise through social media, where she has a huge following. They can’t block her long term.

  8. Guarneri says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Hey SFBrains. I watched an interview with her. Have you, or are you just slurping on Tater at CNN and Maddow at MSNBC ??

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Guarneri: Touchy??? As for me, sorry, but I don’t have cable.

  10. mattbernius says:


    Gabbard is the only good candidate you have … I watched an interview with her.

    What exactly makes her the best candidate in your mind?


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