TV Ratings: Democratic Debate Scores Combined 8M Viewers on CNN, PBS

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Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sparred over health care, big government and the influence of money in politics.

PBS’ Democratic debate on Thursday night, which was simulcast by CNN, was watched by 8.03 million viewers across both networks.

PBS averaged 3.9 million while CNN had 4.1 million. To compare, 4.5 million watched MSNBC's Feb. 4 face-off between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

With only two candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, it was never going to be a barnburner. And the record-setting debate slate has steadily and expectedly declined since the high water marks of last summer. (The Democrats first debate on CNN last October is still the most-watched for the party with 15.8 million tuning in.) 

Co-moderated by PBS anchors Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill — the first debate moderated by two women — the face-off between Sanders and Clinton was respectful, but did not completely lack for sparks. Clinton closely aligned herself with President Obama and continued to question the practicality of Sander’s expansive agenda including single payer health care and free college.

The debate from Milwaukee was the sixth in the Democratic cycle and the first since Sanders’ resounding victory in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9. Ifill asked Sanders if he felt conflicted about possibly being "the instrument of thwarting history" by spoiling Clinton’s chances of becoming the first woman president. Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist who has connected with young voters and women, noted that a Sanders victory in November would also have historical connotations. 

"I think a Sanders victory would be of some accomplishment as well," he said.

Another question from Ifill about Clinton’s donations from wealthy financiers George Soros and Donald Sussman prompted perhaps the best zinger of the night from Sanders. After Clinton contended that the support she has received from a Super PAC did not come with strings attached, Sanders shot back:

"Let's not insult the intelligence of the American people. People aren't dumb. Why in God's name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it. They want to throw money around."
 

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