Vice-Presidential Debate Draws More Than 51 Million Viewers

Thursday night’s Vice-Presidential debate had to go up against a football game on the NFL Network and the MLB playoffs, but it still managed to do quite decently in the ratings:

Thursday’s televised debate between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan attracted well over 50 million people — a significant chunk of the public, but a smaller total than the debate between the presidential candidates last week.

Nielsen, a television ratings company, estimated Friday that 51.4 million viewers watched at home on one of the 12 rated networks that showed the debate. Nielsen’s total did not include television viewers in offices, restaurants, bars, or other areas, nor did it include any Web viewers.

The Oct. 3 debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney garnered about 67.2 million viewers at home, according to Nielsen, and untold millions more via the Web.

Unlike Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan had stiff competition from two big sporting events: a baseball playoff game between the Yankees and the Orioles and an NFL match-up between the Steelers and the Titans. Both games were watched by between 5 and 6 million viewers, potentially deflating the vice presidential debate audience.

Back in 2008, Mr. Biden and the Republican vice presidential candidateSarah Palin attracted 69.9 million TV viewers at home — a record for any debate of vice presidential running mates.

Nielsen said in a news release Friday: “The 2008 Biden-Palin debate notwithstanding, last night’s political tête-à-tête had the highest V.P. debate viewership since the George H.W. Bush-Geraldine Ferarro debate in 1984. That debate nabbed 56.7 million viewers.”

The Biden-Palin encounter was, of course, in a class by itself and we’re unlikely to see its numbers repeated by any group of Vice-Presidential candidates in the near future. Nonetheless, as this chart shows, last night’s debate stands as one of the three highest watch VP debates ever:

Not too shabby, I’d say, and indicitive of a high amount of interest in this election.

Ratings chart via Allahpundit

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, 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. The VP debate’s viewership this year was down 27 percent from 2008. I don’t exactly call that a blowout evening.

    Personally, I don’t think there are enough of the mythical “undecided” voters left who are actually undecided to make a difference any more for either candidate to woo. IMO, both Romney and Obama could go on vacation from now to Nov. 6 with no difference in the result as if they both continued to campaign.

    It will be interesting to see whether Tuesday night’s debate bumps the poll numbers either way.

  2. David says:

    It really looks like the debate ratings were on the high side of average if you remove Gore/Kemp, Chenney/Lieberman and Bidden/Palin. I get the low numbers for Gore/Kemp, that was a snooze fest, and I know lots of people that tuned in to Bidden/Palin for the entertainment value. Not sure why Chenney/Lieberman was so low, I remember that debate and was left with the impression that those two as a ticket would have been better at the time (hindsight says that would have bitten me in the ass, but it was a good debate). If you look at the rest they all range between 40 and a touch over 50 million. So high side of normal.

  3. @David:

    Lots of ratings can be made higher if you simply remove the shows with lower figures!

    I wonder whether they have any way to track online viewing, as opposed to TV/cable viewing. I listened to the debate off my tablet, streaming video off a web site, while I actually watched on TV the NFL game with the sound muted.

  4. john personna says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    Gov. Romney did not make his recent surge out of remaining undecideds. He peeled off some marginally attached opposition supporters.

    We now get to see if Biden was able to do the same.

  5. john personna says:

    A funny thing to learn economists are divided on:

    I don’t adequately understand it–I’m not sure anyone does. I recently went to a meeting of some of the smartest political economists I know and they pretty vehemently disagreed on the related question of how public opinion is shaped, with one side arguing that people are actually pretty rational and generally understand and vote in their self-interest and the other side saying…nope, not really.

    A good article overall:

    Change Theory and Small Responders

  6. john personna says:

    One more paragraph:

    I was thinking about all this today in the wake of last night’s VP debate. I thought it was a good debate wherein the VP did what he needed to do, and that seems to be the consensus this AM. But there are the predictable, and largely correct, I’d guess, views in the papers today saying that the debate didn’t change anything—few votes were moved either way (though I expect partisans were re-energized, and that’s important).

  7. David says:

    @Donald Sensing: I guess what I am saying, except for those three, 2 of which can be explained as why they might be outliers, the VP debates attract a fairly stable number of viewers and that this one is within the norm.

  8. bandit says:

    I feel bad for anyone who wasted 1 second of their lives watching that.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    I feel bad for anyone who wasted 1 second of their lives watching that.

    Translation: Biden won…