CNN’s coverage of the Democratic presidential debate drew an estimated 7.3 million viewers, according to early numbers from Nielsen Media Research.
That’s a slight uptick from the the 6.17 million who watched the debate in December, sponsored by PBS and Politico, and the 6.5 million who watched November’s event, hosted by MSNBC.
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But the debate numbers are a big drop from those held earlier in the cycle. The first Democratic debate, held in June, drew 18.1 million viewers. That event was sponsored by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo. This was CNN’s third debate this cycle: The first, in July, drew 8.2 million viewers on the first night and 10.1 million viewers on the second. Its October debate drew 8.3 million viewers.
CNN sponsored the debate along with the Des Moines Register. The event was the final debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.
Among adults 25-54, the debate drew 2.1 million viewers. The peak viewership time of the debate was from 9:30 PM to 9:45 PM, when almost 8 million tuned in, according to CNN.
CNN also said that its live stream of the debate drew 4 million live starts on its platforms and was its biggest debate ever for digital streaming.
During the time period of the debate, from 9 to 11:15 PM ET, Fox News drew 3.1 million viewers and MSNBC had 1.7 million. Fox News topped the hour before the debate, as Tucker Carlson Tonight drew 3.3 million viewers, compared to 1.76 million for MSNBC and 1.65 million for CNN.
The debate was moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Abby Phillip and Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief political correspondent of The Des Moines Register.
Some of the post-debate critique focused on how Phillip phrased a question that she posed to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Right after Sanders denied that he told Warren in late 2018 that a woman could not win the White House in 2018, Phillip then turned to Warren and asked, “Senator Warren, what did you say when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” “I disagreed,” Warren answered.
The Poynter Report’s Tom Jones wrote that Phillip’s question was “tantamount to calling Sanders a liar, and that certainly should not be a moderator’s job.” Instead, he said that she should have just directly asked Warren if Sanders told her that a woman could not win.
A CNN source, however, says that there was no reason to go to Warren and ask whether that was what happened, because the senator had already said it did in a statement she released a night earlier. “So that’s why Abby asked the question the way she did,” the source said.
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