UPDATE, 11:17 AM: It’s no George H.W. Bush vs. Geraldine Ferraro from 1984 or even Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan in 2012, but viewership for the vice-presidential debate last night between Sen. Kamala Harris and Mike Pence has risen to 50.7 million.
With Fox News Channel topping all contenders with 11.5 million viewers, the first and only sit-down between the two candidates this year, the 2020 VP debate is the fifth best result that any VP debate has scored since they first started in 1976. Also, with the 1992 face-off between Dan Quayle, Al Gore and James Stockdale having snagged 51.2 million viewers, the Harris and Pence debate has a pretty good chance of moving into fourth place when all outlets are accounted for.
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Coming in third place in terms of audience last night, CNN had 7.3 million viewers and fourth place MSNBC had 6.7 million. While ABC was second with 9.4 million watching, it is clear in the leap from the early numbers to this latest figures that cable news is where the Veep action really was on Wednesday.
When the FNC, CNN and MSNBC numbers came in four years ago for Pence vs. Sen. Tim Kaine, that VP debate had 35.6 million viewers — AKA 30% less than last night.
PREVIOUSLY, 8:14 AM: From the day it was announced, we all knew that a vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence was going to be something different, and not just because of the plexiglass and other coronavirus safety measures.
Having said that, anemically moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page, the 9-10 PM ET sit-down between the first woman of color on a national ticket and the incumbent VP was a rather traditional event in this decidedly untraditional election year. Well, maybe with the exception of that fly that hung out on the current Veep’s silver hair for a while.
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Ultimately, with Donald Trump this morning unsurprisingly stomping all over his sidekick’s moment in the sun, the widely covered first and only VP debate of the 2020 campaign probably didn’t change much in the race leading into the final weeks.
Which is maybe why a lot of Americans didn’t tune into to watch — roughly 21.3 million, according to early viewership numbers from Nielsen.
Now, that unadjusted and raw data is just from ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox and is certain to change later today. However, at this point, the 2020 VP debate dipped 2.4% in viewers from the 2016 VP debate between then-Indiana Gov, Pence and Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia on the Big 4.
All things considered, in this era of declining first-run viewers, that’s still a lot of eyeballs for the contenders for the gig that FDR’s disloyal first Veep John Nance Garner once said wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm piss.”
The least-watched veep debate since 2000, the tame 2016 VP between the two male career politicians ended up pulling in a total crowd of 37.1 million across ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and MSNBC. In a bitterly contested race four years ago, that was way, way down from the 84 million who watched first POTUS debate clash of ex-Secretary of State Clinton and former Celebrity Apprentice host Trump on September 26, 2016.
We will update with more 2020 VP debate ratings and viewership as those metrics come in from the cabler newers and other outlets airing the Harris-vs-Pence ceremony on Wednesday.
Unlike four years ago, NBC was not top dog this time round, in the early ratings. That distinction goes to ABC and its 7.7 million viewers and 1.7 rating among adults 18-49. The Comcast-owned net had 5.3 million viewers and a 1.2 rating. CBS snared 4.3 million viewers and a 0.9 rating in the demo and Fox had a 1.0 rating and 3.9 million watching.
As of right now, even with Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC numbers added in, it seems very unlikely that the 2020 VP debate will reach the dizzying heights of the 2008 VP debate. With the sidekick event starting in 1976 with Bob Dole and Walter Mondale, the most-watched VP debate ever was the 70 million who caught then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden meet up with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
That was the second time a woman had been on the ticket.
The first time was back in 1984 when Rep. Geraldine Ferraro was the running mate of former VP Mondale. The second most watched VP debate up to this year, the October 11, 1984 face-off between the barrier breaking Ferraro and incumbent George H.W. Bush drew an audience of 56.7 million on ABC, NBC and CBS.
Outside of the VP debate between Harris, Pence and the now-famous fly, Fox’s The Masked Singer dominated the night with a 1.4 in the demo and 5.72 million viewers at 8 PM ET. The reality singing competition took a three-tenths hit from last week, but it was enough to hit high notes on Wednesday night.
CBS’ Big Brother (0.9, 4.22M) also dipped in the demo, while NBC aired a fresh episode of Weakest Link (0.8, 4.46M).
Meanwhile, the CW saw a fairly quiet night with the Season 2 debut of Coroner (0.1, 717,000), which was on par with its freshman numbers, while the premiere of Devils (0.1, 626,000) was low.