Presidential debate ratings plummet on broadcast networks

Presidential debate ratings plummet on broadcast networks
© AFP/Pool

The first presidential debate between President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE was watched by 29 million viewers on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, marking a 35 percent drop from the first 2016 debate between Trump and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSenate to vote Tuesday on Biden's secretary of State pick Portman planned exit sets off Ohio free-for-all Biden must wait weekend for State Department pick MORE, which was watched by 45 million on broadcast networks, according to early numbers from Nielsen. 

Final numbers, including for the major cable news networks of Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, are expected late Wednesday afternoon. 

In 2016, 84 million tuned in to see Trump and Clinton square off when the final numbers were tallied, making it the most-watched debate since the only showdown between Republican challenger Ronald Reagan and President Carter in 1980, which drew 80 million in an era with far few TV channels and no internet.


The 2020 number for Trump and Biden does not include streaming options, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. 

The evening was marred by dozens of interruptions and personal insults. 

Biden called Trump a racist at one point, a clown several times and also told the president to "shut up" when Trump interrupted him.

The president responded by interrupting Biden, questioning his intellect and continually broaching Biden's son Hunter Biden and his business dealings in Moscow, China and Ukraine.

"I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions,” Wallace said to Trump at one point. “I am appealing to you, sir, to do that.”

The next presidential debate takes place in Miami on Oct. 15, with C-SPAN's Steve Scully moderating.