Donald Trump and Joe Biden clashed for the final time on live television in last night’s second presidential debate, which by all accounts was somewhat more watchable than the first. However, it is currently trailing the previous debate in the ratings by some margin.
Last night’s debate garnered just over 55 million viewers across Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and NBC. Although those aren’t the final numbers and there are still a few networks left to report, it seems highly unlikely that it will overtake the 73.1 million viewers who tuned in to the first Trump-Biden debate.
Looking at the networks individually, Fox News is on course to be top of the pile once again, with 14.7 million total viewers at this stage. ABC is in second with 10.8 million, followed by NBC with 10.2 million. CNN is currently topping cable news rival MSNBC by 7.2 million viewers to 6.7 million. While CBS is in last place for the second debate running, drawing 5.5 million. Fox opted to air “Thursday Night Football” over the debate.
It’s now clear that neither Trump-Biden contest will get close to the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton four years ago, which was watched by a total of 84 million people. That still represents the largest audience ever for a presidential debate. This story will be updated later in the day once the final set of numbers from every network become available.
Prior to the 2016 election cycle, the most watched debate was the sole 1980 sparring session between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which drew around 81 million pairs of eyeballs. In the 2012 cycle, the most watched debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney drew just over 67 million total viewers.
As for the content of last night’s debate, it was largely more coherent than the first, partly because the candidates’ microphones were muted when the other was speaking, which allowed them to speak largely uninterrupted. Once again, the two rivals clashed on key issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, race and climate change.
The debate was moderated by NBC News’ Kristen Welker, and took place at at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.