Here’s How 2nd Presidential Debates Have Done in the Ratings

By Chris Ariens 

Sunday’s second presidential debate was not expected to top the ratings of the first debate, but then Billy Bush started trending.

The debate, a town hall format co-moderated by Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper, will be airing on multiple networks with additional streaming options, but it will face competition from Sunday Night Football on NBC. But NBC knows the debate will take a bite out of Sunday Night Football viewership, which is down 13 percent through the first four games of this season. NBC is running a promo asking viewers to watch the Giants-Packers game on TV and stream the debate on

84 million watched the first debate, according to Nielsen. To be the most-watched second presidential debate, it will have to top the 69.9 million viewers who tuned in to watch the Oct. 15, 1992 debate between Billy Bush’s uncle Pres. George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot on four networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. Here’s how other second debates have performed, going back to 1976.


Viewership for second presidential debates:

2012 Oct. 16 / 65.6M viewers
2008 Oct. 7 / 63.2M viewers
2004 Oct. 8 / 46.7M viewers
2000 Oct. 11 / 37.6M viewers
1996 Oct. 16 / 36.3M viewers
1992 Oct. 15 / 69.9M viewers
1988 Oct. 13 / 67.3M viewers
1984 Oct. 21 / 67.3M viewers
1980 Only one debate
1976 Oct. 6 / 63.9M viewers