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German Election Debate Dominates Sunday Ratings

About 17.5 million, or more than half the viewing public, watched the sole debate between chancellor Angela Merkel and challenger Peer Steinbruck.

BERLIN – Germany's only televised election debate between chancellor Angela Merkel and opposition leader Peer Steinbruck drew record ratings Sunday night.

Data shows that 17.55 million viewers, more than half of the total viewing public, tuned in.

The viewing figures reached heights typically only seen for major sporting events here. The debate was broadcast across four national channels: public broadcasters ARD and ZDF and commercial networks RTL and ProSieben.

The debate dominated the ratings Sunday night. Top U.S. series Navy CIS could only draw a comparatively tiny 4.12 million viewers on commercial network Sat.1.

Most pundits rated the debate a draw, with Steinbruck, whose Social Democratic Party is running behind Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats in the polls, coming out slightly ahead for some.

The debate was the only head-to-head TV showdown between the two leaders in the campaign and was widely seen as Steinbruck's last chance to win over doubtful voters after a lackluster campaign and a series of public gaffs. German voters go to the polls on Sept. 22.

The ratings exceeded those of a TV showdown between Merkel and her then-challenger, which had nearly drawn 15.3 million. But the audience for the latest debate came in behind a 2005 debate, which had drawn more than 20 million viewers.