CNN’s ratings rise to 10.7 million viewers for Round 2 of Democratic debate

Sen. Cory Booker and former Vice President Joe Biden
Sen. Cory Booker, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the second round of the Democratic presidential debate.
(Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images)

A night of feisty exchanges with former Vice President Joe Biden helped lift the ratings of the second round of CNN’s Democratic primary debate Wednesday.

The two-hour event from Fox Theatre in Detroit averaged 10.7 million viewers on CNN and its sister channel CNN International, up 24% from round one on Tuesday, according to Nielsen.

The total was far below the 18.7 million viewers who watched the second round of the first Democratic debate on June 27, which aired on two broadcast networks — NBC and Telemundo — and cable channel MSNBC.


CNN did not disclose the average number of people watching the debate on its video stream, but said online viewing peaked at 9:35 p.m. Eastern with 796,000 viewers.

While the audience number on Wednesday is slightly below CNN’s expectations, it’s still well above that of most primary debate events held in presidential cycles before the 2016 campaign. The only Democratic primary debate to perform better on CNN was on Oct. 13, 2015, when 15.5 million viewers watched Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former senator James Webb.

Public interest in the 2020 presidential campaign and who will challenge President Trump remains high, according to many surveys.

Still, the format of the two-night debate, which featured 10 candidates on the stage for each round, was less than ideal for TV viewers. Several candidates were likely to be unfamiliar to the portion of the audience that doesn’t watch political shows on cable every night.

Biden, who has a commanding lead in the polls, was the main target of the nine other candidates onstage, who picked at his record on immigration, criminal justice reform and climate change. Sen. Kamala Harris of California came under attack as well for her record as the state’s attorney general.


Their rivals on stage included Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The next Democratic primary debate is scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13 in Houston and will be carried on ABC and Spanish-language network Univision. The Democratic National Committee’s requirements for that event, based on fundraising and standings in the polls, are likely to winnow the field.