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First Democratic debate draws over 15 million live viewers

Reporters eat popcorn while watching Democratic debate
A box of popcorn sits next to reporters as they watch Democratic presidential candidate. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

More than 15 million tuned in on live television to the first Democratic debate on Wednesday, according to NBC. Many more watched via streaming or followed along on social media. 

Why it matters: The debate had a strong performance compared to what network executives had predicted, but it still came shy of the viewership for both the Republican and Democratic opening primary debates in 2015.

By the numbers: Wednesday night’s debate, the first of two this week, drew 15.3 million live viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. The first Republican primary debate in August 2015, which featured Donald Trump on the political debate stage for the first time, received over 24 million live viewers. The first Democratic debate in October 2015 garnered over 15.5 million. 

Between the lines: Millions of people also watched the debate via streaming, although those numbers are hard to compare to live TV views. NBC says that it estimates 9 million people streamed the debates in its digital channels. 

The big picture: Social media also plays a big role in amplifying key moments during political debates.

  • Elizabeth Warren got the most attention on social media during the debate, according to social analytics company Sprout Social. 
  • A few heated moments between former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro seemed to pick up steam on social media as well.
  • In the end, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker got the most speaking time during the debate, followed by O’Rourke, Warren and Klobuchar, per NPR.

Go deeper: Highlights from the first Democratic presidential primary debate