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October 08, 2008

Nielsen: 63.2 million watch second McCain-Obama debate

83169113UPDATED: It may have been dull, but that didn't stop viewers from watching. 

Tuesday night's presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama was seen by 63.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That's about 21% more than watched the candidates' first showdown two weeks ago -- an event seen by 52.4 million -- and ranks as the highest-rated top-of-the-ticket debate since 1992.

If one includes PBS viewership estimates, which are not part of the Nielsen sample, Tuesday's debate audience rises to 66 million.

Yet last night couldn't compare to Thursday's vp showdown between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, which was seen by 10% more viewers than last night (70 million) and retains the record as the second-most-watched debate of all time.

Tuesday's bout will stand as the highest-rated debate among Oval Office candidates since Bill Clinton, Ross Perot and George Bush squared off in 1992.

For the third debate in a row this election season, ABC was the most-watched network (13.2 million viewers). CNN (9.4 million) won among cable networks.


-- Nationals: ABC 13.2 million viewers ... NBC 10.9 million ... CBS 9.4 million... CNN 9.2 million ...  Fox News 8.8 million ... Fox 5.3 million ... MSNBC 3.8 million ... CNBC 842,000 [more to come]

-- First 2008 presidential debate: 52.4 million ... vp debate: 70 million ... last night: 63.2 million.

-- PBS is not part of the Nielsen sample, but its audience projections show a similar arc: 2.8 million viewers -- higher than Friday's presidential debate (2.6 million), lower than Thursday's vp debate (3.5 million).

-- The Nashville market, where the debate was held, had the largest TV audience (59.2 HH rating) and the Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, Calif., market had the lowest (31.8).

Reaction, polls, video and analysis:

"Sharp tone, no gaffes," writes USA Today ... "Worst-moderated debate in history of presidential debates," quotes the National Review ... Fact check ... The "that one" video. ... "I'm sure he didn't mean any disrespect," says Lieberman. More videos ... "A status quo debate," writes Washington Post ... "Town hall didn’t help McCain," says Salon ...  "At one point, about 15 voters posed for a group picture like it was the last day of camp,” writes Slate ... "At times it seemed more like a competition to see who could paint the gloaming in the least unsettling hues," says the New York Times ... "A mauling," says Andrew Sullivan ... "The tension between them was palpable," writes Politico ... Debate polls say Obama won ... Election polls suggest tightening race.

-- Tuesday night's other program ratings -- "NCIS," "Dancing With the Stars," etc.

-- Previous: What do debate ratings tell us about the election?

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