Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speak during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.
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Highest Rated Debate In American History

It’s official. Last night’s showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the highest rated presidential debate in history.

The debate averaged a total of 84 million viewers across 13 of the TV channels that carried it live according to Nielsen.

And that’s home audience only. Those who watched at bars, restaurants or at their offices are not counted, along with the millions who watched online. At one point last night, YouTube registered more than 2.5 million simultaneous viewers.

Perhaps good news for the Clinton campaign, the Nielsen data confirms that viewership stayed high the entire debate. Contrary to earlier speculation, there was not a big drop-off after the first thirty minutes.

NBC had the biggest audience overall, with 18 million people watching. ABC drew 13.5 million viewers, CBS drew 12.1 million, Fox News drew 11.4 million, CNN drew 9.9 million, the Fox broadcast network drew 5.5 million, and MSNBC drew 4.9 million.

All of that means the total audience for the debate was significantly higher than 80 million. The previous debate champion was the 1980 showdown between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan which hit 81 million viewers.

The first Obama-Romney debate in 2012 averaged 67 million viewers.

 

About Jim Heath

Jim Heath is the author of the new best seller Front Row Seat at the Circus - One Journalist's Journey through Two Presidential Elections. The book is about Jim's experiences covering the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns - from South Carolina, the first southern primary state, to Ohio, the ultimate battleground state in presidential elections. A recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism, Jim is also a two-time Emmy award winner with more than 15 years experience as both a main evening anchor and political reporter. A longtime advocate of social media, GQ Magazine listed Jim on their Top 5 political "Power List" and the Washington Post named him to their "Best Super Tuesday Twitter List." Jim's news career has taken him from Arizona to South Carolina to Ohio.

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