1. News & Issues

Historical TV Ratings For Presidential Debates

1960-2008 Presidential Campaigns

How many people watch presidential debates on television?

This table shows how many US household televisions were tuned in to key presidential debates from 1960 to 2008.

The TV rating is composed of two parts: the absolute number of households with TVs tuned in as well as the relative number ... the number of households watching as a percentage of total US households. The importance of relative comparison cannot be overestimated.

From 1960 until 1988, the debates were covered by the three networks: ABC, CBS, NBC. In 1992 and 1992, PBS also televised the debates. In 2000 and 2004, the debates ran on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX. Since 1996, some networks pre-empted debates for baseball playoffs.

Year HHs
In US
Date HHs
Watching
% HHs
2004 - Bush/Kerry 112,000,000 30 Sept 43.0 M 38.4%
8 Oct 32.5 M 29.0%
13 Oct 36.3 M 32.4%
2000 - Gore/Bush 104,705,000 3 Oct 32.4 M 30.9%
11 Oct 27.5 M 26.3%
17 Oct 26.3 M 25.1%
1996 - Clinton/Dole 99,627,000 6 Oct 30.6 M 37.3%
16 Oct 25.3 M 30.7%
1992 - Bush/Clinton/Perot 95,669,000 11 Oct 35.7 M 35.8%
15 Oct 43.1 M 45.0%
19 Oct 42.1 M 44.0%
1988 - Bush/Dukakis 91,124,000 25 Sept 33.3 M 36.6%
13 Oct 32.5 M 35.7%
1984 - Reagan/Mondale 85,290,000 7 Oct 38.5 M 45.1%
21 Oct 39.1 M 45.8%
1980 - Carter/Reagan 80,776,000 28 Oct 45.8 M 56.7%
1976 - Ford/Carter 72,867,000 23 Sept 38.0 M 52.1%
6 Oct 37.3 M 51.2%
22 Oct 34.0 M 46.6%
1960 - Kennedy/Nixon 52,799,000 26 Sept 28.1 M 53.2%
7 Oct 27.9 M 52.8%
13 Oct 28.8 M 54.5%
21 Oct 27.3 M 51.7%
Sources: The Nielsen Company (1960-2004 and the Star-Tribune) and US Census (1960-1992, 1996, 2000, 2004)

Discuss in my forum

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.