Second Republican primary debate had the lowest TV viewership since 2015

Sept. 28, 2023, 10:26 PM UTC

By Steve Kornacki

When it comes to debates, the question of ratings is usually little more than a curiosity. But in the face of polling showing Donald Trump approaching 60% support among Republican primary voters — and an unusually high proportion of those voters saying their minds are already made up — it took on new significance last night.

With the former president again skipping the debate, how much interest would there be in hearing out a collection of non-Trump candidates?

The answer, per the Nielsen ratings service: about 9.3 million people. That’s a steep drop from the first debate, which was also held without Trump and attracted about 12.8 million viewers. It also represents — by a significant margin — the lowest TV audience for any Republican presidential debate since the start of the 2016 cycle, when Trump first became a candidate. 

Below is a chart of estimated viewerships for all GOP debates since the 2016 cycle. While it is true that the TV and streaming world has changed significantly over the last eight years — potentially explaining some of the audience slippage — there’s no escaping that last night represented a low water mark for Trump-era GOP debate interest.

Even though it



Subscribe to Our Free Newsletter