Saturday nights’s GOP debate averaged 13.18 million viewers (per Nielsen), which is up from the two most recent GOP debates, one of which did not include the front-runner, Donald Trump. While it is down from the massive 20+ million who tuned into the first two debates of this cycle, it’s a number ABC will be very happy with, especially for a Saturday night stretching over three hours. In fact, this was ABC’s best Saturday night (non-sports) in more than 14 years, since September 2001.
Saturday will easily mark the biggest showing on a broadcast network this cycle. All previous GOP debates, which are averaging significantly higher audiences than the Democrats, aired on cable. The best broadcast debate thus far was NBC’s Jan. 17 showdown between the Democrats. That averaged 10.2 million viewers.
Senator Ted Cruz was confronted once again Saturday night about his campaign’s underhanded dissemination of the false rumor that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race, even as Iowans caucused to decide their candidate. Cruz again tried to blame CNN for his campaign’s actions, but Carson himself called out the falsehood.
Cruz suggested that CNN—he named Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer—reported Carson would not go on from Iowa directly to New Hampshire, and said it took three hours for the network to clarify he was not dropping out.
After that explanation, CNN fired back: “What Senator Cruz said tonight in the debate is categorically false. CNN never corrected its reporting because CNN never had anything to correct. The Cruz campaign’s actions the night of the Iowa caucuses had nothing to do with CNN’s reporting. The fact that Senator Cruz continues to knowingly mislead the voters about this is astonishing.”
In contrast 4.49 Million watched the Democratic Debate on MSNBC. This fifth democratic debate was the lowest so far. Airing on cable channel MSNBC and moderated by Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, the two-hour debate drew 1.21 million in the adults 25-54 demo.
The debate, the first since Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race, averaged a only a 3.3 rating among metered market households in Nielsen’s overnight returns. The tentative 4.5 million viewers was almost half of the previous low, a 6.0 rating (8 million viewers).
The most recent Democratic debate prior to Thursday night, Jan. 17 on NBC, averaged 10.16 million viewers and 3.2 million adults 25-54. MSNBC was the clear ratings leader among the cable news networks from 9 to 11 p.m., though it lagged behind each of the major broadcast networks.
The first Democratic debate, hosted by CNN in October, got more than 15 million viewers. MSNBC’s debate was watched by more people than CNN’s Democratic town hall the day earlier—which got 2.7 million viewers.