Sep 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Second GOP presidential primary debate drops to 9.5M viewers

Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The second Republican presidential primary debate drew 9.5 million viewers, down 25% from the 12.8 million that tuned in for the first debate last month, according to Nielsen ratings.

Why it matters: Former President Trump has historically been a draw for debate viewers, but he opted to sit out of Wednesday night's two-hour event, as he did during the first debate last month.

  • For context, the first two Republican primary debates for the 2016 election saw 23.9 million and 22.9 million viewers, respectively.
  • The first two debates of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary drew 16.7 million and 9.4 million viewers on average, respectively. (Those debates were each aired across two nights, due to the high number of candidates participating.)

Be smart: Viewership typically dips during the second primary debate of presidential elections. And despite fewer viewers than the first, the second debate was still the top TV program in primetime Wednesday.

Details: The two-hour debate was simulcast across Fox News, Fox Business, Univision and Fox News Media's digital channels.

  • Most viewers (6.69 million) tuned in to the debate on Fox News, followed by Fox Business Network (1.81 million) and Univision (813,000).
  • The debate, which was was co-moderated by Fox News' Dana Perino, Fox Business Network's Stuart Varney and Univision's Ilia Calderón, was Fox Business' highest-rated telecast since 2016.

The big picture: Even without Donald Trump, the seven candidates that took the stage Wednesday still brought the drama.

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finally went after Trump, after mostly ignoring him the first time around.
  • Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley launched the first attack against DeSantis.
  • Several candidates again went after entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy for his lack of political and foreign policy experience.

Go deeper: Key takeaways from the GOP debate

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