Nevada Democratic debate draws record-breaking 19.7 million viewers

The broadcast of the Democratic presidential primary debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday drew nearly 20 million viewers across NBC and MSNBC, making it the most-watched Democratic debate in television history, the network said

The debate, which featured former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergNew York City auctioned off extra ventilators due to cost of maintenance: report DNC books million in fall YouTube ads Former Bloomberg staffer seeks class-action lawsuit over layoffs MORE alongside the other Democratic candidates for the first time, averaged about 19.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Fast National Data.

An average of 5.3 million viewers in the 25–54 age demographic watched the debate across the two networks, a new high among that demographic as well. NBC said that an additional 13.5 million people live streamed the event, which took place just days ahead of the Nevada caucuses. 

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The previous viewership high came the night of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 election cycle. Nearly 18.1 million Americans watched the June 2019 debate across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. The most recent numbers do not account for viewership on Telemundo. 

The high viewership came as Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDrugmaker caps insulin costs at to help diabetes patients during pandemic The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Sen. Brown endorses Biden for president MORE (I-Vt.) has appeared to emerge as the front-runner among the remaining field, and he was targeted by several of his opponents on Wednesday. 

In addition, Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman self-funding his campaign, has climbed in national and state-specific polls in recent days. During the debate, he faced an onslaught of attacks over policies such as stop-and-frisk policing and his past comments about women. 

The first GOP primary debate of the 2016 election cycle still holds the record for TV viewership of a debate regardless of party. That debate, which featured then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE sparring with Republican primary opponents for the first time, earned Fox News an average of 24 million American viewers.