Ratings: Fox News Debate Tops Prior GOP Gathering, Draws Net’s Second Largest Audience Ever

Early Ratings: Fox News Channel Debate

UPDATED: The first Republican presidential debate of the season without front-runner Donald Trump generated smaller viewer interest than all but one of this cycle’s prior GOP gatherings, according to preliminary Nielsen estimates — even if did top the most recent edition with the party’s front-runner and deliver the network’s second largest audience ever.

According to Nielsen estimates, Fox News Channel’s debate from Iowa averaged 12.5 million viewers Thursday night, including 3.5 million in the 25-54 news demo. This is up from 11.1 million for the most recent GOP debate, on Fox Business Network earlier this month, but it stands as the second lowest-rated of the six Republican gatherings this cycle.

So far in 2016, last night’s 12.5 million stands as the largest audience of three combined Republican and Democratic debates. Next up is a Republican debate on ABC, set for Saturday, Feb. 6.

Meanwhile, the combined viewership of CNN and MSNBC, which covered Trump’s competing Iowa event last night, was about 2.7 million.

Curiosity over the unpredictable Trump fueled record tune-in for the first GOP debate last summer, as Fox News Channel drew 24 million in August — the largest ever audience for a non-sports cable program — and CNN followed that up a month later with a little over 23 million. Ratings dipped for the subsequent four debates (ranging between 11.1 million and 18.2 million), though they remained higher than in years past.

The Democratic debates have rated lower, but at least some of this is due to three of them being scheduled in lower-profile timeslots on the weekend. The peak viewership came on a Tuesday last October, when CNN drew 15.8 million viewers.

Trump on Tuesday announced that he would not attend Thursday’s debate over his objections to Fox News Channel’s anchor and debate moderator Megyn Kelly. “Megyn Kelly’s really biased against me,” he said in an Instagram video that day. “She knows that. I know that. Everybody knows that. Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?”

He then appeared on Wednesday’s edition of “The O’Reilly Factor,” helping boost the show to a two-month high of 3.8 million viewers. Host Bill O’Reilly tried to persuade Trump to reconsider and attend the debate. “You are depriving people of seeing you in a forum they want to see you in,” O’Reilly said to Trump before asking him point blank if he’d reconsider. “You and I had an agreement that you would not ask me that,” responded Trump.

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  1. Trump lost my vote Thursday night..

  2. Stefan says:

    I mean how dumb is This reporting !??
    In the headline you write ‘second largest’ when it is the second lowest…..

    Shame on you. Not qualified, and a classic to show that ‘the mainstream media’ tends to shamelessly misinform.

    Just garbage, with all due respect !

  3. Big Jack says:

    get you fact straight and fix your headline this rated second from the bottom in viewers

  4. BuzzLight says:

    Duh, of course the ratings dive bombed. But what’s not mentioned here at all is that it was actually Roger Alies that caused Trump to back out with his childish tweets. Trump could care less about Kelly.

    • The Truth says:

      That must be why Trump keeps bashing Kelly. She nailed him in front of 24 million viewers on his demeaning comments toward women, and it still stings. No wonder Ailes ridiculed him. How could anyone seriously think a combed-over, blowhard insult comic like Trump is viably presidential, especially when he didn’t have the balls to face Kelly again.

  5. Jacques Strappe says:

    Debate ratings without Trump are just fine. Makes Trump even seem more insignificant. His 10 year old rants and threats are no longer as entertaining except to the most uneducated Americans. Trump has the white trash demographic trailer park vote in the bag. Everyone else, not so much.

    • Deb Calhoun says:

      How offensive to say his supporters are a “white trash demographic trailer park vote”. I don’t live in a trailer park, I don’t consider myself white trash, I know people that live in trailer parks that are far from being trash, and we all take offense to your trash talk. I am white, earn over $100K annually, and am very educated; hardly a “trashy income”, wouldn’t you agree? The point is the nation has been saying we need to clean house in DC for years. We finally have a non-politician running for office and he is stirring up the pot, bringing all the nasty to the top, and rooting out the evil. Either we clean house up there with someone that doesn’t cower down to the political wannabe’s or we remain the status quo and watch the country plummet into further despair.

  6. Ragnar says:

    Last debate 24 million, this one 13 million.. Total success wouldn’t you say?

    • It’s the usual elitist PoV… don’t mind them.

    • sammyglick says:

      Do you know how to read Ragnar? The last debate didn’t have 24 million viewers — that was the very first GOP debate in August 2015. The most recent GOP debate had 11.1 million viewers. The one last night, had 12.5 million viewers.

      “According to Nielsen estimates, Fox News Channel’s debate from Iowa averaged 12.5 million viewers Thursday night. This is up from 11.1 million for the most recent GOP debate, on Fox Business Network earlier this month, but it stands as the second lowest-rated of the six Republican gatherings this cycle.”

      • It’s intellectually dishonest to compare this debate to the previous GOP debate on FBN, since that network reaches far fewer outlets. Compare to the last FNC debate with Trump in it and the network lost 11 million viewers. Call a spade a spade and compare oranges to oranges… not apples.

      • The reason the last debate on Fox Business was so low was because a lot of cable news providers do NOT carry Fox Business. I would certainly have watched it if we could have gotten Fox Business. Fox needs to “negotiate a deal” with cable networks to get their not so profitable Fox business carried by more providers. However, last night, I refused to watch the debates on Fox News precisely because of Fox News’ snarky news release denigrating, insulting and mocking Donald Trump. And why else did Fox insist of Kellly moderating when they knew she cannot control her bias and viciousness toward Trump. I don’t blame him for not going. If Trump can stand up this way to Fox, then I know he will stand up for America, unlike Obama and Hillary. Go Trump!

  7. ourtime2 says:

    2nd lowest rating only to the last debate of which FOX excluded Rand Paul… And who has more support…. #standwithrand

  8. Trump has proven that many US citizens do not what a media-lapdog president.

    • Responder says:

      And yet he seeks to dominate and now CONTROL the media. Your point is kinda squirrelly.

      • That is NOT true! He was insulted, castigated and mocked by Fox in their press release. What other media has done this to ANY OTHER CANDIDATE, especially right before a debate….none of the other sponsors of the debates, or the moderators would have done this! Fox is no longer conservative, and obviously no longer ‘FAIR AND BALANCED” as they claim to be! Control the media??? what a joke…he just wants to be treated with respect, and the same as the other candidates.

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