The First Democratic Primary Debate on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo Delivered 15.3 Million TV Viewers

By A.J. Katz 

The viewership numbers for Democratic primary debate night No. 1 are in, and they’re not half bad.

Per Nielsen Fast National Data, roughly 15.3 million total viewers watched last night’s debate on NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo. Out of those 15.3 million who watched on linear TV, 8.7 million tuned into NBC, 5.9 million tuned into MSNBC, and 719,000 watched on Telemundo.

The two-hour debate was the most-watched program on TV yesterday.

When it came to younger news viewers, out of the 15.3 million total, 4.3 million hailed from the Adults 25-54 demo–the demo TV news advertisers covet–and 3.7 million were adults 18-49.

The 15.3 million total is more than every primary debate during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. However, it’s worth noting that those debates aired on a single network, whereas last night’s debate aired on three networks.

Additionally, the linear TV total audience is down from that of the first Democratic primary debate for the 2016 campaign. That debate, hosted by CNN, took place in October 2015.

Last night’s debate featured Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey senator Cory Booker, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Minnestota senator Amy Klobuchar, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Washington governor Jay Inslee, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland congressman John Delaney, and Ohio congressman Tim Ryan.

On the digital front, last night’s debate attracted more than 9 million live stream viewers, and 14 million video views across all platforms, including,,, NBC News NOW on OTT devices, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

When it came to 2016 election cycle, the first Republican primary debate aired on Fox News Aug. 6, 2015, and 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-1980s. The inclusion of then-celebrity businessman Donald Trump and the fact the debate only featured the top 10 candidates surely played a role in these huge numbers.

The 2016 campaign was most certainly an outlier relative to past cycles.

The 2012 debates featured only Republicans, as then-President Barack Obama was still in office and not being primaried by his fellow Democrats. The first Republican primary debate took place on May 5, 2011 and aired on Fox News. It delivered 3,528,000 viewers.

The most-watched primary debate of the 2012 season aired on ABC in December of 2011. That one delivered 7.6 million total viewers.

With George W. Bush leaving office, the 2008 cycle featured both Democratic and Republican primary debates.

The first primary debate of the ’08 cycle was a Democratic primary debate which took place on on April 26, 2007 and aired on MSNBC. It hauled in 2,261,000 viewers. The first 2008 Republican primary debate which took place on August 5, 2007, and hauled in roughly 2.2 million total viewers.

The most-watched primary debate in the 2008 cycle aired on ABC and hauled 10.7 million viewers. It also took place in April of the actual election year, when interest is traditionally higher, particularly among casual news consumers.

Here’s how many Total Viewers watched the debates on the linear TV networks:

  Wednesday, June 26 Thursday, June 27
NBC 8,668,000
MSNBC 5,873,000
Telemundo 719,000
Total TV Audience 15,260,000

Here’s how many Adults 25-54 watched the debates on the linear TV networks:

  Wednesday, June 26 Thursday, June 27
NBC 2,674,000
MSNBC 1,343,000
Telemundo 326,000
Total TV Audience 4,343,000

Lastly, here’s how many Adults 18-49 watched the debates on linear:

  Wednesday, June 26 Thursday, June 27
NBC 2,297,000
MSNBC 1,099,000
Telemundo 308,000
Total TV Audience 3,704,000