UPDATE: This article has been updated with the Fox News GOP debate’s total viewership and live stream data.
Fox News scored the most-watched political debate of the year, so far, on Thursday night, riding the momentum of a day in which Donald Trump dominated the cable television landscape.
The debate—the 11th Republican face-off of the 2016 election cycle, and the third on Fox News—averaged a 11.6 household rating, according to overnight numbers from Nielsen’s metered markets. That’s roughly a 17% spike over the ratings for the GOP debate hosted by CNN and Telemundo last month, which had been the highest-rated debate so far in 2016.
The CNN/Telemundo debate pulled in about 14.5 million viewers on average, while Thursday night’s Fox News debate averaged 16.9 million. Fox News also announced Friday that the network’s live stream of the debate peaked at 1.49 million concurrent streams, making the event the most-watched primary event live stream ever.
While last night’s debate was easily the most-watched political contest of the year on television, so far, it still falls well below some of the debates that aired earlier in the current election cycle. The first debate of the season aired on Fox News last August and pulled in an all-time debate record audience of 24 million viewers. The following month, Time Warner’s
CNN set a personal record with about 23 million viewers for a GOP follow-up debate. The highest-rated Democratic debate so far in 2015-2016 pulled in 15.8 million viewers for CNN last October.
Last night’s debate culminated a day in which GOP frontrunner Donald Trump dominated cable television, starting with former Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney held a live press conference in which he denounced Trump—calling the former reality TV star “phony, a fraud”—while urging Republican voters to back a different candidate. Trump later responded to Romney’s remarks in a speech that was also broadcast live on multiple cable news networks, with Trump calling Romney “a failed candidate” who “begged” for his endorsement in 2012.
The Republican candidates did not spend that much time discussing Romney’s comments, but viewers tuning in to Fox News (owned by parent company 21st Century Fox
) last night likely expected to see fireworks after watching Trump and his GOP rivals exchange various examples of vitriol and personal attacks throughout the primary season.
The debate was also hyped due to the fact that Trump skipped the second Fox News debate over his feud with moderator Megyn Kelly, whom Trump has accused of asking him unfair questions in the past. Kelly and Trump seemed to make nice on Thursday night, though the Fox News anchor did challenge Trump on various points, including her pointing out that Trump University (currently the subject of an ongoing lawsuit) received a “D-minus” rating from the Better Business Bureau.