Oct 8, 2020 - Politics & Policy

57.9 million people watched the VP debate on television

Photo by ROBYN BECK,ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly 58 million people watched the vice presidential debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence on television on Wednesday night, according to Nielsen ratings, making it the second most-watched VP debate in TV history.

Why it matters: The debate was the first major political event since President Trump was diagnosed with coronavirus last week. It featured two candidates that could theoretically be asked to step in for their bosses if elected, incentivizing viewers to watch.

Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Be smart: The chaotic nature of the first debate, which drew big numbers, may have also attracted viewers to Wednesday's showdown between Harris and Pence.

  • The most-watched vice presidential debate in history was the 2008 debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.
  • Last cycle's vice presidential matchup between Sen. Tim Kaine and Pence was watched by 37.2 million people.

Details: Fox News drew the overall highest number of viewers this year, followed by ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS and FOX (the broadcast network).

Between the lines: Viewership was highest during the 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET hour, when candidates were talking about the coronavirus, health care, the economy and China, according to an analysis from MiQ, a marketing intelligence company.

Between the lines: Nielsen ratings used to only measure traditional TV viewership. This year, out-of-home streaming in places like bars and restaurants and connected TV (CTV) viewership on platforms like Sling TV were also included.

  • There's no way of measuring exactly how many people streamed the debate on social media or watched clips of it online, but millions more Americans presumably tuned in via digital channels that Nielsen doesn't measure.
  • Nielsen doesn't measure streaming on platforms like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

What's next: The Commission on Presidential Debates said Thursday that the next debate on Oct. 15 would be held virtually, given that President Trump is still battling the coronavirus. Trump said later Thursday morning that he won’t take part in the virtual debate, and asked to delay the debate by a week — a request that was swiftly rejected by the Biden campaign.

Go deeper: Over 73 million people watched the first presidential debate on TV

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