CNN Presidential Debate Drew 51.3 Million, A Big Dropoff From 2020, Nielsen Says

UPDATED, 1:48 PM: Final figures showed that the CNN presidential debate drew an estimated 51.3 million viewers across 16 networks, according to Nielsen.

That is a drop of almost 30% from the 73.1 million who watched the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2020.

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The 51.3 million is higher than the number released earlier in the day by CNN, which was relying on early data.

The bulk of the audience was 55 and over: 34.2 million. An estimated 10.9 million were 25-54, and 4.5 million were 18-34.

CNN drew 9.53 million viewers during the debate itself. Fox News’ simulcast drew 9.28 million, followed by ABC with 9.21 million, NBC with 5.39 million, CBS with 5.01 million, MSNBC with 4.12 million, Fox with 3.68 million and Fox Business Network with 397,000.

Fox News topped the post-debate analysis with 8.71 million, followed by CNN with 7.73 million, ABC with 7.24 million, MSNBC with 4.72 million, NBC with 3.73 million and CBS with 3.65 million.

PREVIOUSLY: CNN said that 47.9 million watched the presidential debate across TV platforms on Thursday night, according to Nielsen Fast National data.

A more complete picture of the debate audience is expected later this afternoon, when Nielsen itself will release final numbers.

As of now, the debate audience was down considerably from 2020, when 73.1 million tuned into the first debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The audience also was way below the first Trump-Clinton debate in 2016, when 84 million tuned in. Previous general election debates have taken place in the fall, when viewership is traditionally higher.

Viewer numbers are not final, but the CNN debate is on pace to draw a TV audience slightly higher than the first Bush-Gore debate in 2020, which drew 46.6 million, and the first Clinton-Dole debate in 1996, garnering 46.1 million.

The TV audience for the CNN debate also was older: Of the 47.9 million, just 12.6 million were in the 25-54 demographic. Of those 18-34, just 3.92 million watched.

The Trump-Biden debate was seen not just on CNN, but across rival cable, broadcast and streaming networks that picked up its simulcast.

CNN itself saw viewership of 8.7 million, edged out by Fox News’ simulcast with 8.8 million. ABC News drew about 8.7 million to its feed of the event.

CNN said that the combined audience of its main network and sister networks CNNE and HLN was 9.04 million. Combining CNN,, streamer CNN Max, CNNE and HLN, about 11.4 million watched, the network said.

Other viewership figures: NBC, 5.17 million; CBS, 4.81 million; MSNBC, 3.94 million; Fox, 3.48 million; Fox Business, 372,000.

MSNBC’s simulcast, meanwhile, drew 3.97 million.

CNN also said that there were 30 million live starts of CNN’s streaming feed on its digital properties and YouTube. The network said that the debate was its largest livestreamed event in history.

The network said the debate was its highest rated program in history, although that is counting the simulcasts on other networks. That said, CNN saw its brand and personalities Jake Tapper and Dana Bash across rival broadcast, cable and streaming platforms, an unusual moment.

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