Presidential debate ratings dropped substantially from 2016, with a 35% decrease in TV viewership

  • Despite some billing Tuesday night's debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden being billed as potentially the most watched debate in US history, the early ratings paint a different picture.
  • Nielsen found TV viewership was down more than 35% from the first debate in 2016, which maintains the title of the most watched contest.
  • Only 28.82 million people tuned in across the big four networks, down from more than 45 million for the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
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The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden did not live up to the hype of being the most watched in US history, with a 35% drop off from the first one in 2016, according to Nielsen.

In the early "fast national" Nielsen ratings first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, just 28.82 million people tuned in across the big four networks, down from more than 45 million for the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

More data will come into the picture from cable networks and out of home viewing, but the sharp decline in the early numbers indicates a phenomenon backed up by polling — much of the electorate has made up their minds and have decided to tune out.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found only 11% of respondents identifying as undecided voters.

Debate ratings are usually highest for the first night.

In 2012, 67.2 million tuned in. In 2008, that number was 52.4 million. 

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