ABC News, Facebook and WMUR Manchester, N.H., knocked the top out of the debate ratings on Saturday with their pre-primary New Hampshire debates, pulling 9.36 million viewers for the Democrats and 7.35 million for the GOP.
The season has been going strong already, with comparatively large numbers for November’s much-advertised CNN/YouTube Republican debate, which averaged 4.49 million total viewers — a sea change from the 2004 election cycle, in which the debates drew much smaller numbers.
The recent debates have done particularly well in the key 25-54 demo, with an average of 2.93 million viewers in that age range for the two programs.
The intensive coverage of the primary process seems to have paid off, coupled with some happy accidents, like the tiny sweet spot between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary — days, instead of weeks, as in election cycles past, with lots of free publicity from the rest of the news media. The writers strike may also have intensified interest in the news, since nearly everything else on TV is reruns.
But the boost isn’t all coincidental: Facebook, which features profiles for each of the candidates and has added the “Politics” application next to games like chess and Scrabble, seems to be drawing young viewers to the debates.
That would jibe with the figures coming from the polls themselves, as well: The number of caucusing Iowans under 30 has tripled since the 2004 presidential cycle.