Palin-Biden Debate: Most Watched of its Kind
The Washington Post reported that Thursday's vice-presidential debate between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden drew in 73 million viewers, making it the most watched vice-presidential debate in U.S. history. It may also be the second-most-watched political debate ever, falling only to the Oct. 28, 1980, debate between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which had nearly 81 million viewers.
Nielsen Media Research said Friday that 70 million people watched the 90-minute debate on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox broadcast network, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, Telefutura and BBC America. PBS, moderated by its own Gwen Ifill, estimated another 3.5 million viewers watched the debate on public broadcasting stations.
Nielsen said that prior to the Biden-Palin showdown, the most watched vice-presidential debate was the only other one to feature a female candidate: 56.7 million people watched the Oct. 11, 1984, debate between George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro.
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. It had 69.9 million viewers.
Timing may also have contributed to the high ratings. Thursday is one of the most popular nights of the week for TV-watching, while Friday, when McCain and Obama first debated, is one of the least popular.
Usually, only the Super Bowl has such a high number of Americans watching the same thing.