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VP Debate a Ratings Winner

Gary Holmes at Nielsen writes me with the following:

Nielsen just released the ratings for last night’s Biden/Palin debate. This is for the 55 local markets where Nielsen has electronic meters.

* The overall rating was 45.0 — much higher than the Obama/McCain debate, which had a rating of 31.6
* The Baltimore market had the largest TV audience, with a household rating of 59.1
* Los Angeles market had the lowest household rating: 34.4.

National ratings for Thursday night’s debate will be available from Nielsen Friday afternoon, and if these numbers hold up, this could be one of the most-watched debates ever.

To see the full list of 55 markets and more historical information on Presidential debates, please visit our blog at:

So, based on the preliminary numbers, the ratings for the VP debate exceeded those of last Friday’s presidential debate by 42%. Since the Obama-McCain debate drew an audience of about 52 million, that would translate into something like 70-75 million viewers for the VP debate. If it clears the 70 million hurdle once the ratings are finalized, it will become the first debate to do so since Reagan-Carter in 1980. It certainly will blow any other VP debate out of the water; the previous high was 56.7 million for Bush-Ferraro in 1984.

This certianly seems to attest to Sarah Palin’s ability to draw a crowd — even if some of those viewers may have watched in the hopes of seeing a train wreck. But also, it may be evidence that the first presidential debate was significantly hampered by having occurred on a Friday, and having had little promotional blast behind it (since the McCain campaign was threatening to pull out until the last minute). I would expect the final two presidential debates to be somewhere in the 60-80 million viewers range.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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