Presidential debate ratings: Here’s how last night’s Clinton-Trump face-off measures up

Not that anyone needed official tallies, but as was widely expected, last night’s presidential throw-down between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump set a record for the most-watched presidential debate in TV history. According to early Nielsen numbers reported by CNN, the event averaged 80.9 million viewers across the dozen TV networks that aired it live. That means it has already edged out the previous record-holder: the 1980 debate between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger, California Gov. Ronald Reagan. That debate, which aired at a time when most households had only three or four channels, averaged 80.6 million viewers.


The Clinton-Trump figures don’t yet include ratings PBS or C-SPAN, CNN reports, which means the final numbers are likely to be measurably higher. They also don’t include live-streaming—a far more prevalent viewing format this time around, with Twitter streaming the debate live for the first time. Twitter boasted earlier today that it was the most-tweeted debate in history. No shortage of superlatives going around this week.

Here’s how the debate stacks up against the rest of the top 10:

1. 2016 – Clinton/Trump *

2. 1980 – Reagan/Carter

3. 1992 – Clinton/Bush/Perot

4. 1976 – Ford/Carter

5. 1984 – Reagan/Mondale

6. 1988 – Bush/Dukakis

7. 2012 – Obama/Romney

8. 1992 – Clinton/Bush/Perot

9. 1984 – Reagan/Mondale

10. 1988 – Bush/Dukakis