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Trump-Biden drew smaller audience to messy debate, Variety says

John J. Edwards III
Bloomberg

The chaotic first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden turned off viewers, with fewer tuning in compared with four years ago, according to early broadcast-network figures reported by Variety.

President Donald Trump participates in the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.

The debate drew just under 29 million viewers on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, ViacomCBS Inc.’s CBS, Comcast Corp.’s NBC and Fox Corp.’s Fox broadcast network, Variety said. That was down 35% from Trump’s first debate with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which drew 45 million viewers on the same basis, according to the trade publication.

The first Trump-Clinton debate had a total audience of 84 million viewers across all broadcast and cable networks, a record for a presidential debate. Full figures for Tuesday night’s debate will be available later Wednesday, but the initial figures suggest a significant comedown.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News reacts as President Donald Trump speaks in the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.

The Trump-Biden clash featured frequent interruptions by the president, insults traded back and forth, and crosstalk so severe it was difficult to make out what either man was saying at times. Reactions on social media and in cable networks’ instant polls were almost universally negative about the event overall, though most observers considered Biden to have come out on top.