Seventh Democratic Primary Debate Gets Ratings Uptick

Democratic presidential primary debate 1-14_Candidates - Getty - H 2020
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CNN's coverage of the seventh Democratic primary debate drew a bigger audience than the two that came before it — but the smallest of the three the network has carried solo thus far.

Tuesday's six-candidate forum averaged 7.32 million TV viewers over its two-hour running time, an improvement on debates in November (6.6 million on MSNBC) and December (6.17 million on PBS and CNN). The debate was the last one to air before voting begins; the Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 3, with the New Hampshire primary following on Feb. 11.

The debate drew 2.11 million viewers in the key news demographic of adults 25-54. 

CNN also said it had an average audience of 467,000 viewers on digital platforms for the debate, bringing the total audience to 7.78 million. The 6 percent lift from digital viewing is the largest ever for a CNN debate, according to the network. 

Tuesday's telecast was the most-watched program on cable by a sizable margin, but it fell short of the previous two times CNN has hosted debates in this primary cycle. Its two-night airing of the second debate in July 2019 averaged 9.71 million viewers, and the fourth debate in October drew 8.34 million.

The nine nights of coverage (the first two debates each aired over two nights) have averaged 10.58 million TV viewers, including a Democratic Party primary record audience of 18.1 million on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo in June. The 2020 cycle is currently up by about 33 percent over 2016 (7.98 million), when five of nine debates aired after primary voting began.

The record audience for a primary debate of any party remains 24.5 million on Fox News for the first Republican debate of the 2016 cycle.