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Biden beats Trump in town hall ratings showdown

The ratings reflect the success the former vice president has had in previous town halls.
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Answers Constituents' Questions At Philadelphia Town Hall
Joe Biden participates in a Town Hall format meeting with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Thusday.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

An average 14.1 million people tuned in to watch former Vice President Joe Biden’s town hall on ABC Thursday night, topping the 13.5 million who watched President Donald Trump’s town hall on NBC, according to data from media measurement company Nielsen.

Biden’s town hall ran from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET while Trump’s ran from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET. But even when compared head-to-head, Biden had 14.3 million viewers for the hour of Trump’s town hall.

Biden's ratings win is particularly surprising given Trump’s town hall aired on two of NBCUniversal's cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC, in addition to the network. That means Biden beat out Trump despite his town hall only airing on one network. (NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.)

Trump’s town hall had 10.9 million viewers on NBC’s broadcast network, 1.8 million viewers on MSNBC and 720,000 viewers on CNBC.

Thursday night’s ratings reflect the success Biden has had in previous town halls. A prior Trump town hall on ABC had 3.8 million viewers, while a Biden town hall held last week on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC had 6.7 million viewers.

Nielsen only measures television and streaming viewership of programs that carry linear advertising. There’s no widely accepted metric that accounts for all the ways the town halls could have been streamed.

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On Friday, Trump, who often touts his ratings over social media, tweeted simply that there were “very good reviews on last night’s @NBCNews Town Hall in Miami. Thank you!!!”

ABC’s town hall with Biden was moderated by host George Stephanopoulos while NBC’s was moderated by anchor Savannah Guthrie. Both received generally positive reviews from Democrats and largely negative scrutiny from Republicans.

The town halls were held in place of a second debate between Biden and Trump. When the debate was moved to a virtual format after Trump tested positive for Covid-19 and was hospitalized, he pulled out, and Biden announced he would participate the ABC town hall.

When NBC announced it would hold a town hall with Trump on the same night at the same time, the network faced criticism that it was not in the best interest of the American public.

Neither of the town halls was able to compete with the number of people who tuned in to watch Biden and Trump together. The first debate had about 73.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The next and final presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 22, less than two weeks from election day.