Bucking a trend of declining debate ratings, ABC’s Saturday night GOP face-off was the highest rated debate so far in 2016, according to overnight Nielsen ratings data.
The debate averaged a 9.3 household rating between 8:15 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. in Nielsen’s so-called metered markets.
The debate on Fox Business Network (a cable channel that is harder to find than ABC) had a 7.4 rating in mid January. The debate on Fox News Channel two weeks later — the one Donald Trump skipped — had an 8.4 rating.
Trump’s presence on stage Saturday night may have lifted ABC. The network also benefited from enviable timing, three days before the New Hampshire primaries, with all the major candidates fiercely fighting for votes.
According to an ABC source, the debate ratings rose each half hour, indicating that viewers stuck with the program despite an embarrassing flub during the candidate introductions. Two candidates initially didn’t come on stage, and then the moderators forgot to invite John Kasich on.
Actual viewer numbers will be available later in the day on Sunday. Fox News’s debate, with an 8.4 overnight rating, had about 12.5 million total viewers.
So far this election season, debates on cable news channels have generally out-rated debates on broadcast networks. But ABC’s debate was the highest-rated one on any broadcast network to date.
ABC’s Republican match-up also far surpassed MSNBC’s Democratic debate earlier in the week. That forum, which was a late addition to the schedule, had a 3.3 household rating, a new low for the debates this season.
The second lowest debate of the season was on ABC — a 6.0 household rating for a Democratic debate on the Saturday night before Christmas.