Oct 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

63 million people watched final presidential debate

Photo Illustration: Pavlo Conchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

63 million viewers tuned into the final debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday evening, according to Nielsen ratings. The event drew 13% fewer viewers than the first presidential debate in late September.

Why it matters: The more measured matchup may have proven to be less exciting than the chaotic first debate.

Yes, but: Final debates historically draw smaller audiences than first debates. And the final debate this cycle still did well compared to previous final matchups.

  • For example, the final presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 drew 59.2 million viewers, and the third debate between Obama and Sen. John McCain in 2008 drew 56.5 million viewers.

Details: Fox News Channel drew the most viewers this Thursday, followed by ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and CBS.

  • Viewership was highest between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., when the candidates were discussing foreign policy and health care, according to an analysis from MiQ, a marketing intelligence firm.
  • While coverage varied by network, 15 networks aired live coverage from approximately 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, per Nielsen.

Be smart: The matchup was the second time the two candidates faced off this year, after the second debate, scheduled for October 15, was canceled after Trump said he would not participate virtually.

  • The highest-rated final debate measured in history occurred during the 2016 campaign, when more than 71 million people tuned in to watch Hillary Clinton debate Trump days before the now-president's historic and unexpected victory.

Between the lines: Nielsen ratings measure television viewership on broadcast and cable, as well as out-of-home TV viewership in places like bars and restaurants, and connected TV (CTV) viewership on digital platforms like Sling TV.

  • There's no way of measuring exactly how many people streamed the debate online or watched clips on social media, but millions more Americans presumably tuned in using other digital channels.

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