Most Watched First Presidential Debate Since 1980

This is worthy of a second post. The estimated viewership @ 70 million is 34% more than the first debate in 2008:

Presidential Debate Drew More Than 70 Million Viewers

The first of three presidential debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney reached more than 70 million viewers on Wednesday night. Nielsen, a television measurement company, said 67.2 million viewers watched on television — the highest number for a first debate since 1980. That year, 80.6 million watched the only debate between then President Jimmy Carter and Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. More recently, about 52.4 million viewers tuned into the first debate in 2008, according to Nielsen, though that debate was held on a Friday night, typically a lower-rated night of the week. About 62.5 million viewers tuned into the first debate in 2004, which similarly featured an incumbent president and a challenger.

Nielsen’s total, however, did not count any of the millions of people who accessed the debate on computers, tablets or phones. Nor did it count people who watched outside the home (in offices, bars or airports) or who watched in other countries. said it recorded 1.2 million live streams of its debate coverage around the world. YouTube, the Web video giant, said its partners had “millions of live streamed views of the debates,” but declined to release specific numbers.

Another measurement company, Rentrak, found that the total audience for the debate was remarkably stable from 9 to 10:30 p.m. The company, which tracks viewership behavior in one million homes, found a slight uptick at 10 p.m. TiVo, which tracks the rewinding behavior of digital video recorder owners, found that the most-rewound moment of the debate came at 9:27, when Mr. Romney mentioned his plan to cut funding from PBS (and gave Big Bird a shout-out).


  1. Kevin
    Posted October 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink | Reply

    And Fox News won the rating war over CNN, MSDNC, and the old three networks.

  2. Eric
    Posted October 4, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    It’s amazing that Fox News had higher viewership that any of the broadcast networks. I watched it on Fox (broadcast) myself. I’ve re-watched it online since as well. I’m curious as to why the online copy on youtube of the debate does not show a split screen like the live debate did. Watch for the media changing the debate format in this regard for future debates.

  3. Posted October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Huge viewership. It means that the American people are engaged. They saw how poor the President looked last night and how good Mitt Romney was. Mitt just needs to stay on the attack. Already seeing Obama’s campaign having to backtrack and Obama being unwilling to attack Romney on the 47%, Bain, etc means that people will ignore his attack ads. If he can’t bring these things up himself, why should anyone give them credence?

  4. bman77
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink | Reply

    I am curious if Fox news led viewership in the 2008 debates? I would think their numbers are further evidence of a motivated GOP base and how foolish these poll ID numbers are.

    • Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink | Reply

      It would be true if Fox’s audience were all conservatives. But contrary to media myths Fox’s viewership is very diverse politically. Every time they do a study the other networks react in shock horror at how balanced the ideology is of Fox’s audience.

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