The first Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday night attracted more than 11 million viewers on Fox News, according to ratings data from Nielsen. A Fox spokesperson said the total rose to 12.8 million when broadcasts on Fox Business Network and the company’s streaming platforms are included.
The 11 million figure is lower than the average viewership for the GOP debates in 2015 and 2016, the last time there was a competitive primary, according to historical ratings data provided by Nielsen. In that cycle, the GOP primary debates attracted an average of 15.4 million viewers on the main broadcasts.
The average for Democratic debates in the 2020 cycle was 11.5 million viewers. In 2015 and 2016, an average of 8 million viewers tuned into the Democratic debates.
An industry-wide decline in cable subscriptions has eroded traditional television ratings for years, likely accounting for some of the decline. But Wednesday’s debate was also notably missing a proven ratings magnet: former President Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner.
The first GOP primary debate in 2015 on Fox News drew 24 million viewers, more than double the previous record for a presidential primary debate at the time. That meeting was Trump’s first appearance on a debate stage.
Trump skipped Wednesday’s debate to instead appear in awith former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that appeared on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Statistics on the post showed it had attracted more than 200 million views, but that figure is not comparable to Nielsen statistics, since it includes any instance in which a user encounters the video, even if they don’t play it.
Wednesday night’s debate featured eight candidates: Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
The next GOP debate is set for Sept. 27 in California.