TV Ratings: First Democratic Debate Posts Solid Returns

The first Democratic primary debate, which featured Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker and Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke among others, posted solid preliminary ratings.

Last night’s feisty affair scored a 7.0 household rating in metered markets on NBC. That figure doesn’t include MSNBC and Telemundo, which both also broadcast the debate.

More comprehensive numbers and the total viewership figure across the three networks will be made available later in the day. It remains to be seen how the numbers for the first debate will match up against those for the second debate taking place Thursday night, which is set to feature several frontrunners for the nomination including Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

For comparison, the first Democratic debate back in the 2008 election cycle was watched by 2.26 million viewers on MSNBC, while the first Republican debate of that cycle garnered 2.18 million eyeballs on ABC.

Approximately 24 million people tuned in to watch Donald Trump’s first debate on Fox News in August of 2015 – at least three times the 7.6 million viewers who watched an ABC News primary debate telecast in 2011. While the first Democratic primary debate of the 2016 cycle averaged 15.8 million viewers for CNN.

However, the 2016 figures were outliers in comparison with the two previous cycles. The most-watched primary debate in the 2008 preliminaries aired on ABC and snared 10.7 million viewers in April – much later in the cycle than this week’s broadcast.

In terms of the ratings benchmarks to bear in mind for later in the cycle, the 2016 Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump turned out to be the most watched ever, with 84 million total viewers across all the networks.

Highlights from last night’s crowded 10-person debate included a tussle between O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro on the issue of decriminalizing illegal immigration, and back-and-forths between multiple candidates on income inequality and climate change.

Additional participants in the first debate included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Gov. Jay Inslee, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Rep. John Delaney, and Rep. Tim Ryan.

The debate was moderated by Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, Savannah Guthrie and José Diaz-Balart.

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