The CBS News Republican debate that aired just hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death drew the biggest ratings for a debate in 2016, with 13.51 million viewers.
More than two million additional viewers watched debate coverage Saturday on the network’s digital streaming service CBSN, which had its best week of traffic ever with 5 million streams, aided substantially by the GOP showdown.
The debate was the party’s most heated to date, with Donald Trump attacking Jeb Bush’s family and Marco Rubio calling out Ted Cruz for not speaking Spanish. “Face the Nation” anchor John Dickerson was as much a referee as a moderator. One of the biggest issues was how to stop President Obama from filling Scalia’s former seat with a liberal judge.
The debate started off with a tribute and moment of silence for Scalia, who died Saturday at age 79.
The rating — with an assist from President Obama’s national address on Scalia’s passing as lead-in — narrowly edged out the numbers from the most recent Republican debate. Broadcast by ABC News on Feb. 6, the New Hampshire event notched 13.2 million viewers. The preceding debate, carried by Fox News in Iowa, averaged 12.5 million tune-ins.
The GOP debates have routinely out-drawn those by the Democratic party. The biggest audience for a Republican debate thus far was the August event in Cleveland, which attracted over 24 million viewers.
Saturday night’s debate was the last prior to this week’s South Carolina primary. CBS News polling says Donald Trump is firmly in the lead, with the support of 42 percent of voters.