Saturday 22 July 2017

Clinton-Trump showdown could set record for most-watched presidential debate ever

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the first US presidential debate in New York. Photo: David Goldman/AP
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the first US presidential debate in New York. Photo: David Goldman/AP

David Bauder

The showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday appears likely to set a record for the most-watched US presidential debate ever.

Preliminary estimates from 11 of the networks that carried the debate totalled 81.4 million viewers, which would topple a record that had stood for 36 years.

A final viewership estimate from the Nielsen company was not immediately available.

The previous record for presidential debate viewership was the 80.6 million people who saw the only debate in 1980 between incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter and his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.

No debate since then had exceeded 70 million viewers.

Mrs Clinton will have some bragging rights at home - when final results are in, the audience for her first presidential debate will more than double what her husband, former president Bill Clinton, received for his last presidential debate in 1996 (36.3 million viewers).

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton after the debate Picture: AFP
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton after the debate Picture: AFP

Only the Super Bowl annually commands a television audience of that size.

The biggest audience in US television history was the 114.4 million people who watched the 2015 Super Bowl between New England and Seattle.

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds hands with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as they leave the stage after the conclusion of the first debate with Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Raedle/Pool
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds hands with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as they leave the stage after the conclusion of the first debate with Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Raedle/Pool

The news was particularly good for NBC.

Not only did it have more viewers than any other network showing the debate, but Nightly News presenter Lester Holt's reviews as moderator were more positive than Matt Lauer received for his interviews with the candidates at a national security forum earlier this month, or CNBC anchors when they did a Republican Party debate last autumn.

A customer and waitress can be seen in a cafe in Sydney, Australia, September 27, 2016 as Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are displayed on a screen during the first presidential debate. REUTERS/David Gray
A customer and waitress can be seen in a cafe in Sydney, Australia, September 27, 2016 as Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are displayed on a screen during the first presidential debate. REUTERS/David Gray

Watching the debate was nerve-wracking for NBC Universal chief executive Steve Burke because of the pressure on Mr Holt.

Mr Burke said at an appearance in London on Tuesday that Mr Holt "ended up doing a very good job".

Some Republicans were unhappy with Mr Holt, suggesting that he was unfair because he asked tougher questions of Mr Trump, and challenged his facts on issues such as Mr Trump's support for the war in Iraq and a court case involving the "stop-and-frisk" method of policing.

That may account for an overnight change of thinking by the candidate.

Interviewed by reporters immediately after the debate, Mr Trump said that "I thought Lester did a really good job" and that he thought Mr Holt brought up the topics he wanted.

Several hours later, on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends, Mr Trump said he thought Mr Holt earned a C or a C-plus for his debate performance, and that he asked unfair questions.

The second of three scheduled debates will be on October 9.

The town hall-style forum will be moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC News' Martha Raddatz.

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