Debate Numbers


Expectations went unmet Friday night, as the first McCain/Obama debate wasn’t as big of an audience draw as the first Bush/Kerry four years ago – but then again, their’s wasn’t on a Friday night.


In the meter-market overnights, Friday night’s 90-minute debate in Mississippi received a preliminary household rating of 33.2, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That’s 16% lower than the national number from the 2004 debate, which aired on a Thursday — generally TV’s most-watched night of the week. Friday’s number is only slightly above George W. Bush and Al Gore’s first debate in 2000 and the Clinton-Dole debate in 1996.

The McCain-Obama rating represents 55 of the 56 largest TV viewing markets in the country and includes ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, CNN, Telemundo, TeleFutura, and BBCA.

A firmer sense of the debate’s popularity will be available Monday when Nielsen releases the national numbers — including total viewers — so the debate’s overall rank could shift. One media report is extrapolating that the rating equals 57 million viewers, but Nielsen will not confirm this. The St. Louis market had the largest debate audience, with a household rating of 52.1, while the Phoenix/Prescott market had the lowest rating, 24.8 (top markets here).

The first 1980 bout between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter still holds the record as the most-viewed televised presidential debate, with a 58.9 household rating and 80.6 million viewers.

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