TV Ratings: First Democratic Debate Draws 15.3 Million Viewers

The first Democratic primary debate, which featured Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker and Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke among others, posted solid ratings and total viewership, but was unable to match the prolific numbers of the 2016 cycle’s first round.

Last night’s feisty affair drew a total of 15.3 million viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, a significantly lower figure than the 24 million people who tuned in to watch Donald Trump’s first debate on Fox News in August of 2015, but only slightly fewer than the 15.7 million viewers for the equivalent Democratic debate on CNN.

In terms of the breakdown by network, Thursday’s debate was watched by 8.67 million viewers on NBC, 5.87 million on MSNBC, and around 700,000 on Telemundo. Ratings-wise, the debate posted a 2.2 in the 25-54 demographic on NBC, a 1.1 by the same measurement on MSNBC, and a 0.27 on Telemundo.

According to NBC, the debate live stream garnered more than 9 million viewers across all platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, Telemundo.com, and NBC News NOW.

It remains to be seen how the numbers for the first debate will match up against those for the second debate taking place Thursday night, which is set to feature several frontrunners for the nomination including Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

For comparison, the first Democratic debate back in the 2008 election cycle was watched by 2.26 million viewers on MSNBC, while the first Republican debate of that cycle garnered 2.18 million eyeballs on ABC. The most-watched primary debate in the 2008 preliminaries aired on ABC and snared 10.7 million viewers in April – much later in the cycle than this week’s broadcast.

In terms of the ratings benchmarks to bear in mind for later in the cycle, the 2016 Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump turned out to be the most watched ever, with 84 million total viewers across all the networks.

Highlights from last night’s crowded 10-person debate included a tussle between O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro on the issue of decriminalizing illegal immigration, and back-and-forths between multiple candidates on income inequality and climate change.

Additional participants in the first debate included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Gov. Jay Inslee, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Rep. John Delaney, and Rep. Tim Ryan.

The debate was moderated by Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, Savannah Guthrie and José Diaz-Balart.

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