Viewership saw a 13 percent dip when compared to the first debate in 2016, in which a record-breaking 84 million people watched Hillary Clinton square off against Trump

By Claudia Harmata and Gabrielle Chung
September 30, 2020 08:34 PM
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President Donald Trump (left) and former Vice President Joe Biden at Tuesday's debate
| Credit: Morry Gash/Getty Images

Tuesday's fiery debate between Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump drew in big numbers in viewership, though it did not shatter records.

According to data released by Nielsen on Wednesday, an estimated 73.1 million people tuned in to watch the first debate of the 2020 presidential election across 16 networks that aired live coverage of the event, making it the third most-watched debate in the past 45 years.

Viewership saw a dip when compared to the first debate in 2016, in which a record-breaking 84 million people watched Hillary Clinton square off against Trump.

To put Tuesday's viewership in perspective, nearly 100 million people tuned in to this year's Super Bowl, 76.3 million for the series finale of Seinfeld and 52.5 million for the last episode of Friends.

Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump at Tuesday night's debate
| Credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/Getty Images

In the first of this year's debates, Trump repeatedly talked over Biden and moderator Chris Wallace and, at one point, Biden responded by telling Trump to "shut up."

"It’s hard to get any word in with this clown," Biden also said on stage.

The former vice president accused Trump of being "the worst president America has ever had" during the chaotic face-off.

The remark came after Wallace referenced a New York Times report that claimed Trump only paid a total of $750 in federal income tax in both 2016 and 2017, thanks to a nearly $10 million tax credit partially connected to a hotel project in Washington, D.C. (Trump has insisted the Times' reporting is "fake news.")

Donald Trump and Joe Biden
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

As the president continually interrupted his opponent, many of the topics that Wallace had hoped to cover with the politicians — including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and civil unrest — got less-than-planned airtime.

CNN's Dana Bash called the cringeworthy back-and-forth between Trump and Biden a "s— show," while NBC News' Lester Holt said it was "a new low point in American political discourse."

The next presidential debate will take place on Oct. 15 with the final debate on Oct. 22. Meanwhile, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence face-off on Oct. 7.