The fourth Democratic presidential primary debate drew an average audience of 8.3 million viewers for CNN on Tuesday, the smallest TV audience for the 2020 White House contenders so far.
The figure from Nielsen is a well below the 8.7 million who watched the first round of CNN’s July 30 debate. The decline is likely due to stronger competition in prime time, including a National League Championship Series game on TBS, at which the Washington Nationals earned their first trip to the World Series in franchise history.
The debate also had an average streaming audience of 449,000 viewers on the websites of CNN and the New York Times, which teamed with the cable news channel on the event.
The TV audience level was down 22% from the 10.7 million who watched the second round of the second Democratic primary debate on CNN. The largest audience for a Democratic debate so far in the 2020 campaign cycle is 18.1 million viewers who watched the second round of the first Democratic debate simulcast across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo on June 27.
The last debate on Sept. 12, which aired on ABC and Univision, had an audience of 14 million viewers.
Nevertheless, CNN’s audience for the Democratic candidates competing to face President Donald Trump in the 2020 election remains higher than most debates in pre-2016 campaign seasons at such an early stage.
In the years before Trump turbocharged the ratings during the 2016 race, the largest audience for a primary debate before the Iowa caucuses were held was the 9.3 million who watched Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama face off in Jan. 2008.
The three-hour event held at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, was the first since Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has emerged as a front-runner in numerous polls. She spent much of the night parrying questions on how her administration would fund her proposals of Medicare for all and free tuition at public colleges.
The 12 candidates on CNN’s stage was a record number for a primary debate. ABC’s debate had 10 candidates, and the previous events held on NBC and CNN split up the qualifying contenders over two nights.
Along with Warren, the lineup included former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, businessman Tom Steyer and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett and New York Times National Editor Marc Lacey served as moderators.