The second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump drew another huge audience Sunday night — just not record-breakingly huge as was the case with their first face-off.
About 66.5 million people watched the debate on ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, Univision, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Fox Business and CNBC. NBC didn’t air the debate since it had a contractual obligation to the NFL for “Sunday Night Football.”
Coincidentally, the 18 million fewer viewers for Sunday’s town hall was just about the number of people who watched the first debate on NBC — and of those who opted to watch the game instead. NBC says its “Sunday Night Football” telecast drew 16.6 million viewers.
Per usual, the total debate audience dwarfed that of the game. Aside from the record-setting first debate between Trump and Clinton, Sunday’s telecast was the second most-watched debate since 1996.
CBS, which had afternoon NFL games leading into primetime in most of the country and an extended “60 Minutes” leading into the debate, had the biggest debate audience with 16.43 million viewers. ABC (11.51 million) narrowly beat cable leader CNN (11.23 million) for second overall. Fox News was fourth with 9.86 million viewers, followed by FOX broadcast, 5.6 million; MSNBC, 5.55 million; PBS, 2.82 million; Univision, 2.4 million; Fox Business, 564,000; and CNBC, 391,000.
Streaming figures are not included in the total.
The 21 percent decline in audience between the first two debates is not atypical: In 1996, 2000 and 2004, the second debate fell by a similar percentage. The second debate between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008 was the most-watched of their three contests, while the second 2012 debate between Obama and Mitt Romney fell only slightly from the first.
Here are the debate audiences for the past five presidential elections.
|Year||First debate||Second debate||Third debate||VP debate|
|1996||46.1 million||36.3 million||**||26.6 million|
|2000||46.6 million||37.5 million||37.7 million||28.5 million|
|2004||62.4 million||46.7 million||51.1 million||43.5 million|
|2008||52.4 million||63.2 million||56.5 million||69.9 million|
|2012||67.2 million||65.6 million||59.2 million||51.4 million|
|2016||84.4 million||66.5 million||Oct. 19||35.6 million|
**Only two debates were held in 1996.
Source: The Nielsen Company.