Thursday’s MSNBC Democratic Debate Had Lowest Ratings Yet
Thursday night’s MSNBC Democratic debate, the fourth such debate between the Democratic candidates for President and the first to feature only Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, drew the lowest ratings yet:
MSNBC’s feisty debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton received high marks from political observers, but not high ratings from ordinary viewers.
With 4.5 million viewers, it was the lowest-rated debate of the 2016 election cycle by far, according to Nielsen data.
The prior low was 7.8 million viewers for ABC’s Democratic debate on the Saturday night before Christmas.
MSNBC’s debate was a late addition to the lineup, originally announced just over a week ago and not officially sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee until this week. But the channel heavily promoted the debate on Wednesday and Thursday.
The ratings results may suggest some measure of debate fatigue among viewers. MSNBC may have also faced structural disadvantages because it is generally lower-rated than Fox News or CNN.
On the other hand, the 9 p.m. hour when the debate started is usually MSNBC’s highest-rated hour, with about one million viewers a night watching Rachel Maddow’s show, which has been regularly eclipsing CNN recently.
For comparison’s sake, the most recent Democratic debate, televised by MSNBC’s sister channel NBC in January, had about 10 million viewers, more than double Thursday’s result.
That January debate was on a broadcast network, which has a wider reach than a cable news channel. But up until now, in this Donald Trump-fueled election season, cable debates have out-rated broadcast debates.
The most recent GOP debate, a Trump-free match-up on the Fox News Channel, had 12.5 million viewers, and that was considered underwhelming by Fox and GOP debate standards.
The Democratic debates have drawn smaller audiences, but have still surpassed comparable totals from the 2008 primary season.
Such a sharp drop-off in viewership is somewhat surprising, especially with the race for the Democratic nomination becoming seemingly closer by the day, but it may well be that the fact that the debate was scheduled at the last minute amid a cavalcade of post-Iowa news coverage that also included a “Town Hall” style forum featuring Clinton and Sanders on CNN. Even the CNN event, though, seemed to evidence audience fatigue when it comes to political coverage, with that show drawing just 2.7 million viewers. Missing from this is indication of how many people in the crucial audience, New Hampshire, were watching either forum.