By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, October 4, 2008
More than 73 million people watched the vice presidential debate between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware on Thursday night, making it the most watched vice presidential debate in U.S. history and very likely the second-most-watched political debate of any kind -- including presidential face-offs. It ranks behind only the Oct. 28, 1980, debate between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which logged nearly 81 million viewers.
Nielsen Media Research said yesterday that 70 million people watched the 90-minute debate across ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox broadcast network, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, TeleFutura and BBC America. PBS projects that 3.5 million others watched the debate, moderated by its own Gwen Ifill, on public broadcasting stations.
Before the Biden-Palin match, the most watched vice presidential debate was, coincidentally, the only other one to feature a female candidate. George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro drew 56.7 million viewers on Oct. 11, 1984, Nielsen said.
After Carter-Reagan, the presidential debate that drew the most viewers was the Oct. 15, 1992, three-way among then-President Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, Nielsen said. That logged 69.9 million viewers. Sadly, Nielsen did not acknowledge those of you who watched debates on PBS in those days either. And PBS reps did not have any available stats yesterday for public TV debate audiences in '92.
But for that '92 debate to come up to the audience levels of the Palin-Biden square-off, PBS would have had to average about 4 million viewers. One PBS rep we contacted yesterday said debate audiences for public television stations tend to approximately match their prime-time averages. In 1992, public television averaged 2.85 million viewers in prime time, according to Nielsen stats.
The Sept. 26 debate between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama drew 52.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
The market with the largest percentage of homes tuning in to the debate was Baltimore, with 59 percent. In Washington, about 51 percent of television homes tuned in.
ABC led the Palin-Biden watching pack, logging 13.1 million viewers for the debate from approximately 9 to 10:30 p.m.
NBC was on its heels with an average of 12.8 million.
CBS and Fox News Channel each logged 11.1 million viewers. That's the biggest audience ever for FNC, which celebrates its 12th anniversary Tuesday.
CNN logged about 10.7 million viewers and boasted that its audience included the highest rating among 18-to-34-year-olds in cable news history. Nearly 3.2 million of its viewers fell in that age bracket.
Fox broadcast network drew 4.5 million and MSNBC 4.4 million.