Presidential Debate Ratings Audience

Ratings: Presidential Debate Up 'Bigly' From 2012, Sets All-Time Record

Viewership for the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was, in a word, tremendous.

Final update: According to Nielsen (by way of CNN), the face-off amassed 84 million total viewers across broadcast and cable networks, besting the record set by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan’s Oct. 28, 1980 debate, which drew 81 mil. NBC led the pack with 18 million viewers. Among cable networks, Fox News was on top with 11.4 mil.

Monday night’s haul marks a 25 percent increase over the first 2012 debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, which drew 67.2 million viewers. Meanwhile, this year’s Super Bowl amassed 111.9 million viewers.

In the TVLine polls below, readers gave Clinton the edge in “winning” the first debate, while Lester Holt averaged a “D+” grade as moderator, with more than a few people feeling his questions were biased against Trump. Perhaps more importantly: How did everyone do with their TVLine bingo cards?

Elsewhere on the night, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (14.1 mil/3.5) ticked down, while Kevin Can Wait (10.9 mil/2.7) gained a tenth in the demo… NBC’s The Voice (12.1 mil/3.3) was steady… ABC’s Dancing With the Stars (10.7 mil/1.8) rose a tenth… and Fox’s Gotham (3.7 mil/1.2) dipped.

Meaningful broadcast viewership numbers for the debate will be reported Tuesday afternoon; cable data will be folded in later.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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33 Comments
  1. AJJJ says:

    Add Gary Johnson to the stage and the record will be beat.

    • Mac says:

      And ask him what Aleppo is

    • ChicagoDan says:

      And ask him to do the disabled person ‘tongue tied’ routine he did for MSNBC again. GJ is a complete wackjob.

    • Collette says:

      Gary Johnson reminds me of the kind but rather dim angel in It’s A Wonderful Life.

    • Chris says:

      Don’t forget his idea to solve global warming by colonizing other planets!

    • DL says:

      People need to understand what libertarians actually stand for. An Ayn Rand-ian free market society with no protections or regulations, where we torch all the social safety nets and let people fend for themselves against giant corporations who’ll have carte blanche to wring out every bit of profit to pad their pockets with no consideration for the little guy. Gary Johnson is the anti-Bernie Sanders.

  2. tobin says:

    Trump was a complete fool

    • DL says:

      I’d agree. Not a Trump supporter here! But he is actually saying “big league,” even if it sometimes slurs together to sound like “bigly.” xD

  3. stephanie says:

    Do the ratings include people who streamed the debate on Twitter and Facebook? i.e. millennials?

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      As denoted above, the 21% bump is based on just the overnights for the Big 3. Total viewership for all of broadcast will come in by 11:30 (as denoted above), followed later by cable numbers. At some point, someone somewhere will report Twitter and Facebook and SnapChat and Compuserve streams.

  4. Rachel says:

    how were questions biased against Trump? I really want to know.

  5. Karl says:

    Moderators should be able to turn off mics, with warning, when speakers go overtime.

  6. Laura Markl says:

    You have the ratings for the networks, but they were not the only ones who showed the debate. You also had Fox, PBS, Fox News, and Fox Business. I watched the debate on Fox News. If you are going to mention ratings you need to mention the ratings for all that showed the debate.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      See closing line ;) (Cable ratings famously come in much, much later. Famously.)

    • dman6015 says:

      In the ponderous world of ratings gathering, the system is older than the dinosaurs. It takes days, not hours, to compile all the data. I blame Nielsen and the broadcast networks for this mess.

  7. Et al says:

    I guess Trump’s sad little reddit trolls haven’t got around to spamming your poll yet.

  8. Debbie Barry says:

    Asking The Donald an in depth question on government, US policies, and understanding the middle class or minorities is out of his comfort zone. He can’t remember names and policies so he will give them his own take on this. When people compare Trump to Regan all I think about is Ragans later years of forgetting things and sleeping in high level meetings with dignitaries

  9. Teresa says:

    Hillary fibs with her facts. No surprise there. She had good technique, if I tell a lie about Trump he will use his given time to defend himself instead of exposes me. So, that is how you will run a country, Hillary?

    • K says:

      There are few things more hilarious than Trump supporters calling Hillary Clinton a liar. Watching Donald Trump crumble while Hillary Clinton didn’t even break a sweat was one of them.

  10. Benjamin says:

    Trump tried to divert the attention and did not answer the questions. The kind of tone he had a magic lamp and ginee will do the job. His appears was total ignorance of the facts.

  11. peterwdawson says:

    Not a shock it did better than the last presidential cycle, Romney wasn’t exactly that charismatic and Obama had the aura of a man beaten down by a rough first term after lofty promises. It was basically two men who appeared ill at ease. This time we’ve got a guy known to be a spectacle and randomly shout against a lady who has to show she can stand up to him and weather comments about some of the most scrutinized scandals in recent American history.

  12. A fan of TV says:

    Would be interested to know totals with the online viewing options added in (how I watched, for example, from Canada), though, even though that’s beyond what this site would be interested in…according to the counter on what I was watching, there were more than 16,600 viewers of that feed alone…

  13. Fran Rushie says:

    What can we expect since the liberal media is in Hilary’s camp! Donald Trump will still win and people will see through the media and crooked Hilary!

  14. dman6015 says:

    I’ll be voting for Clinton. Trump is an annoying fool.

    Having said that, I believe Lester Holt was a bit too one-sided in his in-depth questioning. Lots of “Can you explain this…” for Trump, but nothing similar for Clinton. She has her own series of issues that he should have questioned her on equally.