2016 Presidential Debate Ratings: How Many People Watched?

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump shake hands after the first presidential debate. (Getty)

Monday night’s face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the most-watched presidential debate of all time.


According to Business Insider, 84 million people watched the debate on television last night. And that number doesn’t even include everyone who saw it on the internet; the debate was also streaming on Facebook, Yahoo, and a few other streaming services.

This makes the September 26th’s debate the most viewed in history. Prior to this week, the record holder was the October 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan which, according to Adweek, was watched by 80.6 million people. It should be noted, though, that the U.S. population was only 226 million in 1980, whereas today it is 318 million, and so when the ratings are viewed as a percentage of the population, the 1980 debate still wins.

According to The Wrap, in 2008, 52.4 million people tuned in to the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. In 2004, the first debate drew 62.5 million viewers, and in 2000, the first debate was seen by 46.6 million people.

Back in 1980, those 80 million people only had three channels on which to see the presidential debate. But last night’s event was broadcast on 14 networks, in addition to the streaming services that made it available online for free.

Still, the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton did not quite reach Superbowl numbers, as some were predicting heading into Monday night. This year’s Superbowl was watched by over 110 million people, according to CNN.

Donald Trump, who frequently makes mention of TV ratings, bragged at a Melbourne rally on Tuesday that so many people watched the debate and that it was the most popular ever.