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October 03, 2008

Final: Palin-Biden the most-watched vp debate ever

83097955_2 UPDATED: Thursday's highly anticipated face-off between Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Delaware senator Joe Biden was the most-watched vp debate of all time.

Last night's event was seen by more than 70 million viewers.

That's the most-viewed debate -- presidential or vp -- since Ronald Reagan went up against Jimmy Carter in 1980, which still holds the debate viewership record (80.6 million).

The Palin-Biden telecast was at least ...

-- 33% higher than Friday's top-of-the-ticket debate between John McCain and Barack Obama (52.4 million).

-- 61% higher than the 2004 vp debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards (43.6 million).

-- 23% higher than the 1984 match up between George Bush and Geraldine Ferrarro (56.7 million), the former title-holder for the most-watched vp debate.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the event drew 69,989,000 viewers, which the measurement company rounded to an official tally of 69.9. In addition, PBS estimates about 3.5 million watched its coverage.

The Biden-Palin summit was expected to overthrow Friday's presidential debate in viewers due to questions about Palin's readiness and because the vp match was held on a Thursday -- television's most-watched night of the week. But this ratings blowout exceeds industry expectations. The audience response puts the election back onto the historic and record-breaking ratings territory that characterized the convention coverage.

The Nielsen measurement includes viewers watching the debate live on 11 networks -- NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, CNN, Fox News, CSPAN, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, and Telefutura.

ABC drew the largest debate audience with 13.1 million viewers. Among broadcast networks, ABC was followed by NBC (12.8 million), CBS (11.1 million) and Fox (4.5 million).

On cable, Fox News led with 11.1 million -- the most-watched telecast in the network's 12-year history. CNN drew 10.7 million, the channel's third most-watched telecast ever. MSNBC had 4.4 million.

Debate reaction and analysis:

"The most compelling 90 minutes of TV on a Thursday night in quite some time," writes Paul Gough ..."So how surprising was it, really, that neither candidate devolved into a Jerry Springer screaming fit or fell into a state of catatonia?" asked LA Times ... Debate quotes from the AP ... "Palin changed her image overnight," says Weekly Standard ... "Palin scored points but didn't win," says Newsweek and Salon ... "Attitude and image vs. facts and focus," says Baltimore Sun ... "Rivals shine, Palin a bit more brightly," says Boston Globe ... Joe Klein weighs in ... "Nothing will have a substantive effect on the presidential race," says US News and World Report ...  "Palin a bridge too far," says RCP ... Shales: Palin seemed like Tina Fey ... HuffPo's collection of reactions and live blog ... CBS poll results ... CNN poll and analysis ... CNN's video highlights.   

RELATED: The TV ratings election: Have the Nielsens ever been more politicized? What are the numbers really telling us?

RELATED: Saturday Night Live's Palin-Biden debate parody

>> Previous VP Debate Ratings:

2004: Cheney-Edwards: 28.1 HH / 43.6 million viewers
2000: Cheney-Lieberman: 21 HH / 29 million viewers
1996: Gore-Kemp: 19.7 HH / 26.6 million viewers
1992: Quayle-Gore-Stockdale: 35.9 HH / 51.2 million viewers
1988: Quayle-Bentsen: 33.6 HH / 46.9 million viewers
1984: Bush-Ferraro: 43.6 HH / 56.7 million viewers

>> Previous Presidential Debate Ratings Highlights:

2004: Bush-Kerry (first debate): 62.5 million viewers
2000: Bush-Gore (first): 46.6 million viewers
1996: Clinton-Dole (first): 36.1 million
1992: Clinton-Perot-Bush (second): 69.9 million
1988: Bush-Dukakis (second) 67.3 million
1984: Reagan-Mondale (second): 67.3 million
1980: Reagan-Carter: 80.6 million


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