Last Night’s CNN Debate Drew 7.3 Million TV Viewers, Up From PBS’ and MSNBC’s Debates, but Down From All Prior 2020 Debates

By A.J. Katz 

CNN’s coverage of the 7th Democratic primary debate of the 2020 cycle attracted 7.3 million total TV viewers, and 2.1 million adults 25-54.

These are early numbers, as per Nielsen data, and they’ll be adjusted as additional data rolls in later today.

According to the network, the debate earned roughly 4 million live starts on CNN digital platforms, which CNN says adds a +6.4% lift to CNN TV total viewer average audience (+467,000). That would mean a total of nearly 7.8 million watched the debate on CNN TV and digital platforms.


The 2-hour debate, which took place at Drake University in Iowa, was moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, anchor The Situation Room, Abby Phillip, CNN political correspondent and Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief political correspondent of The Des Moines Register.

This was the final debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

Last night’s debate out-performed the most-recent debate, co-hosted by PBS and Politico (and simulcast by CNN) in December by +18%. That debate attracted 6.2 million total viewers. Last night’s CNN debate also out-performed  the fifth debate, co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, on Nov. 20, by +13%. That debate drew 6.5 million.

But that’s where the good news ends. Last night’s debate  came up short when compared with debates 4 through 1. Debate No. 4, hosted by CNN on Oct. 15, drew 8.55 million total viewers and 2.43 million in the 25-54 demo.

The most-watched debate of the 2020 cycle to-date was day No. 2 of NBCU’s two-night debate in June. That debate, which was part of the first of this cycle, included viewership from NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, and it delivered a combined 18.1 million total TV viewers, 5.3 million of whom were adults 25-54.

The next debate will take place on Feb. 7, in between the Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary, and will be co-sponsored by ABC, WMUR-TV and Apple News.