Viewership for the second Republican primary debate of the 2024 election cycle on Wednesday was the lowest viewership has been since the debates started in 2015, multiple outlets reported, citing the Nielsen ratings service.
Outlets like The New York Times and NBC News interpreted the drop as a sign that viewers are uninterested in learning about the other Republican candidates as former President Donald Trump leads them in the polls. However, Trump participated in two of the three least-viewed debates.
Trump appeared in the third-least-viewed debate on March 10, 2016, hosted by CNN, which earned nearly 12 million views, and the second-least-viewed, on Jan. 14, 2016, which aired on Fox Business and received just over 11 million views, according to a chart of the data from NBC News.
Wednesday’s debate had approximately 9.3 million viewers — with 6.7 million watching it on Fox News, 1.8 million tuning in to Fox Business and 813,000 watching Univision. Those numbers reflect a 27% drop compared to the first GOP primary debate of the 2024 cycle, which aired on Aug. 23, 2023, on Fox.
The first GOP primary debate of the 2024 cycle garnered approximately 12.8 million viewers across platforms — including Fox News, Fox Business Network and its streaming platforms. About 11 million viewers watched Fox News alone. But even those numbers reflected a significant drop in viewership compared to debates from preceding election cycles.
The very first GOP debate, which aired on Fox News on Aug. 6, 2015, had 24 million viewers. The second, which aired on CNN on Sept. 16, 2015, reached about 23 million viewers.
Prior to this election cycle, another debate in which Trump did not appear that aired on Fox News on Jan. 28, 2016, earned only 12.5 million views.
The Nielson viewership numbers don’t account for viewers who tuned in via streaming.
In a press release on Thursday, Fox News focused on the achievements of digital and live streaming.
“Across all FOX News Digital properties there were 22.8 million minutes watched between 9-11 PM/ET, marking the platform’s third highest day of engagement on the FOX News livestream this year,” the press release said, adding that “livestream minutes were up 83% percent, video starts were up 65% percent and unique viewers were up 29% from the average 2023 weekday. Compared to the average 2023 weekday for FOX News Digital, overall video starts were up 22%, page views saw a 5% rise and total minutes were up 9%.”
“On social media, FOX News remained number one in total social engagement among the news competitive set (Facebook, X, Instagram),” the press release continued.