Las Vegas Democratic debate draws record viewership

A new candidate, as well as two primary contests in the rear-view mirror, contributed to a record audience for the ninth faceoff of the 2020 campaign.
Image: Campaign workers watch Mike Bloomberg speak at Democratic debate in New York on Feb. 19. 2020.
Campaign workers in New York watch Mike Bloomberg speak at the Democratic debate on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.Caitlin Ochs / Reuters

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By Jason Abbruzzese

A new candidate and two nominating contests in the rear-view mirror — the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary — led to a record audience for Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate, the ninth of the 2020 election cycle.

The debate, held in Las Vegas and aired on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, averaged more than 19.6 million viewers, according to a press release from NBC News based on data from the media-tracking company Nielsen.

NBC News said audiences also watched the debate online with 13.5 million live video streams across various platforms.

NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC, NBC News and MSNBC.

A smaller field compared to earlier faceoffs was bolstered by a new entrant, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The debate was particularly contentious compared to previous events, with many of the candidates going after Bloomberg's mayoral record and his treatment of women at his company.

Wednesday night's debate beat out the record of 18 million people who tuned in for the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate in June, which also aired on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

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The audience was still smaller than the 24 million people who tuned in to Fox News in August 2015 to watch Donald Trump debate a 10-deep Republican field.

While ratings for early debates were strong, audiences had dropped for more recent debates. Wednesday's debate was the first since polls began showing a Bloomberg surge and since Democratic voters turned out to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.