The Insanely Large Number Of People Who Watched The Debate

debate donald trump hillary clinton

The presidential election is weeks away, and campaigns are fighting harder than ever to win over voters. The 2016 race for the White House has been heated on both sides of the aisle, and it doesn't seem to be cooling off any time soon. The first debate between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump promised to be a spectacle to remember as two incredibly different people clashed on a national stage, and a lot of people tuned in to see it. In fact, the September 26 presidential debate drew in a whopping 84 million viewers.

No, that's not a typo for 8.4 million viewers. In reality, 84 million households had their TVs turned to one of the stations broadcasting the Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump debate on Monday night. That number accounts for nearly half of American households with access to a television. The event is officially the most-watched presidential debate of all time, beating out the 1980 debate between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger Ronald Reagan. 80.6 million households watched Carter vs. Reagan. No other debate in the 56 years since candidates first began televised debates has come close to the 84 million mark.

Incredibly, the 84 million does not even include Americans who watched on platforms that do not offer Nielsen ratings calculations. Folks who caught the event online, on mobile devices, or on C-Span were not measured. Anybody with access to the internet should have had an easy time finding a place to stream if they couldn't make it to a TV. It's impossible to say at this point how much the 84 million would jump if it included the number of people who watched via alternate means to regular broadcast, but we can guess that it would increase significantly.

The 84 million represents a 25% increase over the ratings for the first 2012 presidential debate between now-President Obama and then-candidate Mitt Romney, according to The New York Times. At that time, 67.2 million witnessed the Obama/Romney matchup four years ago. Impressively, the Clinton/Trump face-off held the majority of its viewers for all 95 minutes of the event. A portion of viewers in years past tended to tune out the longer a debate ran on.

Plenty of those viewers were multi-tasking by posting commentary on various social media sites like Twitter. Comments ranged from reactions to the candidates' platforms to opinions on moderator Lester Holt's performance to jokes about some of the most wild moments that came out of the debate.

NBC scored the most viewers of the broadcast networks, with an average of 18.2 million who tuned in over the 95 minutes. Fox News was the big winner on cable, with 11.4 million. Another two debates are scheduled before the election on November 8, so we'll have to wait and see how the numbers with subsequent debates compare and whether other networks can manage to beat out NBC News and Fox News. Check out our fall TV premiere schedule to see what else you'll be able to catch on the small screen in the near future.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).