Last Night’s CNN-New York Times Democratic Primary Debate Drew 8.3 Million TV Viewers, Down From Prior Debates

By A.J. Katz 

Last night’s CNN-New York Times Democratic presidential primary debate from the campus of Otterbein University in Ohio drew an average of 8.3 million TV viewers and 499,000 average livestreams per minute from 8 – 11 p.m. ET. This is according to Nielsen data.

Among adults 25-54, 2.4 million tuned in. The debate peaked on TV from 9:15-9:30 p.m. with 9.2 million total viewers and from 9:45-10 p.m. among adults 25-54 with 2.6 million.

Those numbers aren’t up to the network’s usual standards. In fact, 8.3 million represents the smallest debate audience of the 2020 cycle to-date.


Still, 8.3 million viewers for a cable broadcast on a Tuesday night isn’t anything to sneeze at.

For reference, night No.1 of CNN’s most recent Democratic primary debate (July 30) delivered 8.7 million total viewers and 2.5 million adults 25-54. The audience for night No. 2 (July 31) of that two-night CNN debate was +24% from night No. 1: 10.7 million total viewers and 3 million among adults 25-54.

Why the drop off? Perhaps it was the duration. The debate lasted three hours. Perhaps it was fierce programming competition. The debate went head to head with TBS’ presentation of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, a series featuring the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals. Washington politics junkies may have been more interested in Washington’s baseball team eliminating St. Louis than in another televised debate.  Or maybe it’s just general debate fatigue which influenced less than stellar ratings.

Perhaps all of the above.

The three hour debate was moderated by CNN’s Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, and the New York Times national editor Marc Lacey.

The debate included a record number of presidential candidates: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Cory Booker (NJ); Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, IN); former HUD Secretary Julián Castro; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI); Sen. Kamala Harris (CA); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN); former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX);  Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT); businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

The next Democratic presidential primary debate is being co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, and will take place on Nov. 20 in Georgia. Debate moderators and an exact location in Georgia are TBD.