Final debate draws about 34 million network TV viewers

Final debate draws about 34 million network TV viewers
© Greg Nash

Preliminary data for the third and final presidential debate of 2016 on Wednesday night show that viewership numbers increased from the second debate, but were still well below the record-setting Sept. 26 showdown between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states California Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE.

According to Nielsen early returns, Wednesday's debate from Las Vegas generated a 39.7 overnight rating. That equates to 34.6 million viewers among the big four networks. 


ABC led the way with an audience of 9.8 million viewers, beating CBS’s 9.29 million. NBC and Fox — which also had its cable news components carrying the broadcast on MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News and Fox Business — followed with 9.18 million and 6.3 million viewers, respectively. 

Numbers for the cable networks carrying the broadcast will be available later Thursday afternoon. 

The first presidential debate, from Hofstra University in New York in late September, scored a 46.2 rating, which translated into 84 million viewers. The second debate from Washington University in St. Louis, registered a 37.2 rating and an audience of 69 million. 

Total viewership for the Chris Wallace-moderated debate on Wednesday night will likely land somewhere between 71 million and 74 million when all the data are in. 

One reason for the audience increase from the second to third debate — which has never happened in the modern era of debates — could be connected to competition. 

The second debate, on Oct. 9, was directly up against an NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants on NBC. 

New York is the country's No. 1 media market, and “Sunday Night Football” is almost always the top-rated program of the week. 

The third debate’s competition was baseball’s National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. The game was carried on nascent Fox Sports 1 and not Fox-TV, which reaches many more homes. 

Despite the drop in viewers from the first debate to the third, the numbers for this year’s final debate are way above others in recent elections. 

In 2012, the third debate registered 59.2 million viewers. In 2008, the third debate brought in 56.5 million viewers.

Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and Trump, the GOP nominee, will be together again Thursday for the Al Smith Dinner in New York, though they will not share the stage. All of the cable news networks — Fox News, CNN and MSNBC — will carry the feed from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel via C-SPAN.