TV Ratings: Fourth Democratic Debate Falls on CNN

The fourth face-off between presidential hopefuls brought in the smallest audience for the 2020 cycle to date.
Courtesy of CNN

CNN drew another sizable audience for the fourth Democratic presidential debate — but not as big as the news network's previous debate telecast.

Tuesday's debate averaged 8.34 million TV viewers, below CNN's last debate coverage on July 30-31 and the smallest audience of the four Democratic debates thus far. Live streams of the coverage on digital properties for CNN and co-sponsor The New York Times averaged an additional 449,000. 

In the key news demographic of adults 25-54, the debate averaged 2.38 million viewers. CNN also noted that the debate had 9.2 million live-stream starts on digital properties (including Facebook), a record for a CNN debate telecast. The debate also had a larger audience than all but two shows in primetime Tuesday: CBS' NCIS (10.87 million) and FBI (8.75 million).

The three-hour telecast featured 12 candidates, with current polling leaders Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders at the center of the stage.

CNN's first debate of this election cycle, in late July, averaged about 9.7 million on-air viewers over two nights (8.69 million for the first night and 10.72 million for the second). Live streams of the two nights averaged 546,000 viewers.

The first set of debates — which aired on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo — remain the biggest of this election cycle so far. The two-night affair averaged 16.68 million viewers in June, with night two's audience of 18.1 million setting a record for a Democratic primary. The third debate on ABC and Univision drew a little over 14 million viewers.

This year's Democratic debates are averaging better than 12 million viewers and drawing significantly larger audiences than those of the 2016 cycle, which averaged just under 8 million. The record viewership for a primary-season debate remains with Fox News, which drew 24 million people for the a Republican debate in August 2015.