The first Democratic debate for the 2020 U.S. presidential election drew 15.3 million TV viewers across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. Another 9 million checked out the live stream.
That’s much lower (-36%, to be more exact) than the kickoff to the 2016 election cycle, which of course had the Donald Trump factor. However, it did fare 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 15.8 million viewers. Broadcast’s first turn, a Democratic debate in November 2015, drew 8.6 million.
Wednesday’s debate was easily the most-watched program on television of the night. In the key news demo of adults 25-54, the debate averaged 4.3 million viewers across all three networks. Among adults under 50, the number was 3.7 million.
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, Wednesday’s two-hour debate was just the first half of a two-night affair giving 20 of the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls their first chance to spar on the same stage.
Wednesday’s lineup included Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan and Elizabeth Warren.
On Thursday, 10 other Democratic hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, will take the stage for the second night of the debate.