ABC’s Democratic primary debate scores 7.85 million viewers on Saturday

Hillary Clinton speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

Hillary Clinton speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

(Jim Cole / Associated Press)

The Democratic primary debate held Saturday averaged 7.85 million viewers on ABC, making it the least-watched candidate showdown of the 2016 presidential race, according to Nielsen data.

Moderated by “ABC World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and the network’s chief global affairs correspondent, Martha Raddatz, at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, the event was slightly below the 8.55 million viewers that the last showdown among the Democrats had. That debate aired Nov. 14, also a Saturday night, on CBS.

The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley complained about the scheduling of the debate in New Hampshire on Saturday, the night of the week that typically has the smallest number of homes using television and the lowest ratings. Outside of live sports and the CBS news magazine “48 Hours,” networks program the night with repeat episodes.

While the number paled next to the record-setting numbers for the Republican primary events, the debate was ABC’s most watched Saturday program since December 31, 2011, excluding live sports broadcasts.

But the Democrats also don’t have the carnival-worthy attraction of Donald Trump in their field of candidates led by Hillary Clinton, who continues to hold a wide lead over her competitors and shows no signs of relinquishing it. The Republicans also have more candidates in a race that is still considered unsettled despite Trump’s lead in the polls.


The lack of real conflict among the three Democratic candidates may also be a factor in the lower interest level. Clinton’s late return to the debate stage after a bathroom break was the most discussed moment of the evening. The recent controversy over a data breach by Sanders’ campaign -- which the candidate apologized for -- was addressed early.

The first Democratic debate on CNN was watched by 15 million viewers on Oct. 13.

The ratings for all of the Democrats’ debates trail the three highest Republican matchups this year. The GOP debates have set records on four different cable networks, including the 24 million viewers who watched Aug. 6 on Fox News Channel and 23 million viewers for CNN on Sept. 16. The last GOP debate, Dec. 15 on CNN, had 18 million viewers.

The next Democratic primary debate will air Jan. 17, a Sunday, on NBC.

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio