Breaking Down the Ratings of the 2016 Vice Presidential Debate Ahead of the Pence/Harris Debate

Even amid a White House COVID pandemic that has impacted President and First Lady Trump, Press Secretary McEnany and Senator Thom Tillis, among many others, Vice President Pence is healthy and preparing for a debate with Joe Biden's running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris. Pence last hit the debate state four years ago, on October 4, 2016. There, he faced Hillary Clinton's running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. Unlike the presidential debates, in which polls all pointed to Clinton as the big winner, Pence was seen to have the upper-hand in this debate, with a CNN poll giving him a six-point advantage over Kaine. The debate was seen as having little practicality, as the candidates interrupted themselves too often to discuss the issues (sound familiar?). CBS's Elaine Quijano moderated.

NBC's coverage of the event absolutely dominated. It nearly doubled ABC and CBS's coverage in the 18-49 demo with a 1.9 and also won in total viewers with 7.03 million viewers. Unlike NBC's presidential debate coverage, it dropped in both the demo and in viewers from its Voice lead-in. ABC was in second among broadcast networks in the 18-49 demo with a 1.1, wiht 6.15 million tuning in. Its retention from Dancing With the Stars was even worse than NBC's coverage retained The Voice. CBS was third in the demo with a 1.0 and second in viewers with 6.46 million viewers, and the worst retention of any network with about 50% retention in both metrics. Meanwhile, Fox had a 0.7 for their coverage and 2.21 million viewers, the only network to grow in viewers from its lead-in (up 200,000 viewers from New Girl), but still dropping in the 18-49 demo.

CNN was on top of cable news in the 18-49 demo with a 1.15, beating all but NBC in that demo. With 4.45 million viewers, it trailed three broadcast nets and Fox News, which attracted 6.12 million viewers. Fox News skewed much older, as it got a 0.9 in the demo despite two million viewers more than CNN. MSNBC trailed all other networks in the demo with a 0.58, and lost to all but Fox with 3.14 million viewers.

In all, the VP debate wasn't seen as a big deal among viewers. Political junkies tuned in on cable news, but for the most part, coverage on broadcast dropped in interest from its lead-in and heavily trailed even the lowest-rated presidential debate. With two debaters less flashy than Trump and Clinton, that's not a surprise. The combined 7.33 in the 18-49 demo and 35.27 million viewers doesn't even begin to stack up to the 21.0 demo rating and 75.6 million viewers for the first presidential debate that preceded it.


18-49 Rating


Lead-in Rating/Viewers



7.028 million

2.0/7.93 million



6.149 million

1.4/9.12 million



6.462 million

1.9/14.44 million



2.208 million

1.0/2.03 million


18-49 Rating




4.169 million

Fox News


6.116 million



3.135 million

It remains to be seen how the 2020 debate will rate, but we do know that Trump/Biden "debate" heavily trailed the Trump/Clinton debate, so a drop for the VP debate is probably to be expected.

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