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VP debate draws huge ratings — nearly 51 million tuned in


It's not the most-watched VP debate of all time, but it dwarfed 2016's debate ratings

PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images

Wednesday night's debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was anticipated as perhaps the most important vice presidential debate in recent memory, and that hype translated into big TV ratings.

Early ratings indicate viewership for the showdown between the two presidential running mates rose a whopping 42% from the vice presidential debate four years ago in 2016, totaling 50.7 million people, Deadline reports. The 2016 debate between Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine (D, Va.) by way of comparison, drew 35.6 million viewers.

While the ratings are doubtlessly huge for a vice presidential debate, the debate only registered as the fifth-most watched vice presidential debate since 1976, but it may move to fourth place once all of the ratings are counted. The 1992 contest between Dan Quayle, Al Gore and James Stockdale drew 51.2 million viewers, so the Pence vs. Harris debate may be on trajectory to top that.

The all-time record for highest vice presidential debate ratings belongs to the 2008 debate between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin, which drew roughly 70 million viewers.

Fox News dominated cable TV Wednesday night will 11.5 million viewers tuning in. ABC News came in second with 9.4 million watching, CNN snagged third with 7.3 million, and MSNBC finished fourth with 6.7 million.

Still, the debate was about 20 million viewers shy of the presidential debate. Last week's debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden netted more than 73 million viewers, a decrease from the 84 million people who watched the first debate between then-candidate Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Whether the American people will be able to watch another debate this campaign season remains an open question.

On Thursday, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second presidential debate, to take place Oct. 15, will be conducted virtually following Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis. The debate will follow a town hall format, though with the candidates participating from separate remote locations presumably via online video conferencing.

Trump said the idea of a virtual debate was "ridiculous" and announced his intention to not participate. His campaign has requested for the debate to be postponed by one week to allow for the candidates to appear in person.

The Biden campaign rejected the Trump's request to postpone the debate.

"Donald Trump doesn't make the debate schedule; the Debate Commission does," Biden spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said.

"We accepted the three dates — Sept. 29, Oct. 15, and Oct. 22 — in June. Trump chose today to pull out of the October 15th debate. Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing. We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which already is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years. Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That's his choice."

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