The final showdown between Democratic candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, 12 days before the Nov. 3 election, yielded smaller returns: 55.2 million viewers watched the contest on six major broadcast and cable-news networks, Nielsen says.
The face-off – with fewer interruptions and a less circus-like atmosphere – followed two dueling town halls last week (in place of a planned virtual debate, which Trump nixed), and a Sept. 29 debate that averaged 62 million on those six networks, and 73.1 million overall. Final figures for Thursday’s debate are due later Friday.
Historically, the first debates are often the most popular: The first of three 2016 matchups between Trump and Hillary Clinton drew 84 million, while the second dipped 21%, to 66.5 million and a third netted 71.6 million.
The only vice presidential debate, pitting Mike Pence against Kamala Harris, drew 57.9 million earlier this month.
But this election cycle, with additional town halls, rallies and media appearances, may have exhausted the electorate.
For Thursday’s debate, Fox News had the biggest audience, with 14.8 million viewers. ABC, which has the top-rated news division among broadcasters, ranked second with 10.8 million, followed by NBC with 10.2 million. NBC’s White House correspondent, Kristen Welker, won praise for her moderating skills, helped by the Commission on Presidential Debates’ decision to mute the microphones of each candidate during their opponent’s first response to new topics.