Democrats Again Failed to Trump the GOP’s Debate Ratings

December 21, 2015, 10:43 PM UTC
ABC News - 2015
ABC News coverage of the Democratic Presidential debate from St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.
Photograph by Ida Mae Astute—ABC via Getty Images

This weekend’s Democratic debate had little trouble winning a television ratings battle against a lineup of other networks’ reruns. But, when it comes to competing against their GOP counterparts, the Democrats still haven’t come close to pulling in as many viewers as Donald Trump, et al.

A little more than 6.7 million people tuned in to ABC (DIS) on Saturday night to watch Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton debate a range of issues with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, according to Nielsen. That was more than enough to win the debate’s time-slot, with a rerun of CBS (CBS) hit drama NCIS coming in just behind the Dems with nearly 5.2 million viewers.

However, the Democrats’ ratings are still easily trounced by even the Republican primary candidates’ latest debate, which pulled in 18 million viewers last week on CNN in what was just the GOP’s third-highest rated debate of the 2016 cycle. The Republican field, which has received a huge ratings boost from frontrunner and firebrand Donald Trump, previously recorded record ratings for debates on Fox News (25 million) and CNN (24 million) in August and September, respectively.


The Democrats also fell well short of their own October ratings, when more than 15 million viewers tuned in to CNN to watch the frontrunner Clinton debate her challengers.

Of course, as Fortune has noted previously, the Democrats’ inability to score big TV ratings that rival the Republican field is about more than viewers’ fascination with Trump. All of the Democratic debates, so far, have been scheduled on Saturday evenings, when many people are out and about, rather than staked out in front of their televisions. Republicans, on the other hand, have mostly debated on weeknights.

Some of Clinton’s challengers have even suggested that the debate schedule has been rigged by the Democratic party (Clinton is widely seen as the establishment candidate) in order to protect Clinton’s polling lead, rather than risk exposing her to a potential misstep on a giant stage.

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