NBC News’ Democratic Primary Debate Was Most-Watched Ever

By A.J. Katz 

Last night’s Democratic primary debate, No. 9 of the 2020 primary cycle, featured former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The debate did not disappoint, and the ratings were impressive. Record-breaking, even.

A solid 19.7 million total viewers and 5.3 million adults 25-54 tuned into last night’s debate across NBC and MSNBC, curious to see how the big-spending mayor would perform against the more experienced debaters from the Democratic side: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, Ind.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Mayor Bloomberg didn’t perform particularly well, but he’ll have another shot next week at the South Carolina debate, Tuesday in Charleston.


In addition to the above-mentioned linear TV numbers, NBC News says the broadcast attracted 13.5 million live stream views. The digital streams translate to an average audience of 417,000 viewers.

After months of decline, Democratic primary debate ratings have grown lately. The most recent one, hosted by ABC on Friday, Feb. 7, drew 7.9 million total TV viewers. That was the largest number since the 4th debate, which took place on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 debate on CNN, and drew 8.55 million total viewers.

The most-watched 2020 primary debate up to this point was part 2 of the first Democratic debate last June. That one delivered 18.1 million total viewers across 3 networks (NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo).

NBC News and MSNBC now claim the top 2 Democratic debates of the 2020 cycle and top 3 Democratic debate nights.

Fox News holds the presidential primary debate viewership record: 24 million watched the Republicans battle it out in Aug. 2015. The 2016 GOP debate, starring then reality TV show host Donald Trump, stands as the most-watched non-sports cable program of all time, and Fox News’s most-watched program ever.

Back over to the current cycle, CBS hosts the 10th Democratic primary debate next Tuesday, Feb. 25, live from South Carolina. New ViacomCBS sibling brand BET will simulcast the debate.

The DNC originally announced 12 primary debates for 2020. CNN and Univision have 2020 primary debate No. 11, taking place March 15 in Phoenix.

Host media outlet, date and additional details for the 12th debate have yet to be announced.