Democratic Debate Night 2 Scores 18.1 Million Viewers, New Party Record for a Primary

Second night of NBCU simulcast was up 18% from Wednesday’s debate and had the left’s most eyeballs ever

Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In First Debate Of 2020 Election Over Two Nights
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The second night of the first Democratic debate for the 2020 U.S. presidential election bested the first by 18%, drawing 18.1 million TV viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo versus Wednesday’s 15.3 million. Another 9 million checked out the live stream.

Last night’s showdown — which boasted a lineup including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg — was the most-watched Democratic primary debate ever, topping the first Dem faceoff of the 2016 cycle, which aired on CNN in October 2015 and posted 15.5 million viewers.

Thursday’s debate also hit a record among adults 25-54, putting up 5.3 million viewers in that key demo across all three networks vs. Wednesday’s 4.3 million. Among adults under 50, the number for Night 1 was 4.4 million, with Night 2 pulling in 3.7 million.

According to NBCU, the cumulative audience for the two-night debate was 37.1 million viewers.

Moderated by a group of NBC News hosts including “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart, the two-night affair gave 20 of the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls their first chance to spar on the same stage.

Along with Biden, Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg, Thursday’s lineup included Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.

Wednesday’s portion, which featured Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Julián Castro, Mayor Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Rep. Tim Ryan and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, drawing that previously mentioned 15.3 million TV viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. Another 9 million viewed the debate via live stream.

Nights 1 and 2 of the debate were easily the most-watched programs on television Wednesday and Thursday. However, both came in lower than the kickoff to the 2016 election cycle — which of course had the Donald Trump factor — but fared better than the debates leading up to the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The first primary debate in August 2015, featuring Trump and nine other top Republican candidates, scored 24 million total viewers on Fox News. CNN’s Democratic version in October landed the above-mentioned 15.5 million viewers. Broadcast’s first turn, a Democratic debate in November 2015, drew 8.6 million.