Here Are the Ratings for Night No. 1 of the Two-Night CNN Democratic Primary Debate

By A.J. Katz 

The numbers are in for last night’s CNN Democratic primary debate, and they’re not half bad.

According to the Nielsen fast national data, 8.69 million total viewers tuned into night No. 1 of the two-night debate across CNN TV (U.S.) and CNN en Español. 2.53 million of those viewers were adults 25-54.

Out of those 8.69/ 8.7 million viewers, 50,000 watched the debate on CNN en Español, which means CNN U.S. delivered 8.64 million total viewers for the debate.


Across three CNN platforms (CNN U.S. TV, CNN en Español, CNN digital) there was a total average audience of 9.22 million viewers.

CNN digital’s live stream of last night’s debate saw 2.8 million live starts on CNN’s owned platforms (,, CNNgo OTT apps and mobile apps for iOS and Android), and viewers spent an average of 75 minutes watching the night digitally, placing it among the top debates ever for watch time. According to CNN, that translates into a TV equivalent of 516,000.

Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Don Lemon are the CNN debate moderators.

How do last night’s debate ratings stack up? The first two-night Democratic primary debate of the 2020 cycle was hosted by NBC last month, and night No. 1 delivered 15.3 million total TV viewers watching across three NBCU networks: NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

Out of the 15.3 million who watched on their televisions, 8.7 million tuned into NBC TV, 5.9 million tuned into MSNBC, and 719,000 watched on Telemundo.

Yes, 8.7 million isn’t anywhere close to 15.3 million. However, the fact that CNN is approaching the same total number of viewers as a broadcast network like NBC is really nothing to scoff at. We’re also in the last week of July, not exactly a time where folks traditionally flock to their television sets.

On the downside, last night’s total is down from the network’s October 2015 Democratic primary debate total ( a solid 15.8 million). However, it’s still the second-most-watched Democratic primary debate in network history.

Fox News had the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 election cycle, airing on Aug. 6, 2015. It delivered a whopping 24 million total viewers, making it the most-watched non-sports basic cable telecast since Nielsen started measuring audiences in the mid-’80s. The inclusion of then-celebrity businessman Donald Trump, and the fact the debate only featured the top 10 Republican candidates most certainly played a huge role in these gaudy numbers.

Tuesday’s debate featured candidates: Gov. Steve Bullock (MT), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, IN); former Rep. John Delaney (MD); former Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN); former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX); Rep. Tim Ryan (OH); Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA); and author Marianne Williamson.

What can we expect from tonight’s debate, ratings-wise?

Numbers probably won’t approach NBC debate night No. 2 level, but they may follow a similar trend in that there may be audience growth. The second night of the NBC debate set a Democratic primary-record with 18.1 million viewers vs. the previous night’s 15.3 million. It’s very possible that this trend remains intact, especially considering the former vice president and the high-profile California senator are among tonight’s participants.

The second of the two-night debate will feature: Sen. Michael Bennet (CO); former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Cory Booker (NJ); former HUD Secretary Julián Castro; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY); Sen. Kamala Harris (CA); Gov. Jay Inslee (WA); and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.