Why Were The Democratic Debate's Ratings Low? The Second Showdown Was Poorly Timed

So far, the 2016 presidential debates have been drawing record numbers of viewers. Did the last Democratic debate continue this trend? Nope. Only 8.5 million people tuned in to watch it. That’s nothing to sneeze at, of course, but it’s also many million fewer viewers than any of the previous debates, Democratic or Republican. Why were the ratings so poor this time around?

The biggest and most obvious explanation is that it aired on a Saturday night. Debates are fun, but let’s not kid ourselves: Other than campaign operatives and political journalists, who wants to sacrifice a Saturday night to watch a bunch of politicians argue with each other? Not too many people, apparently, and that’s true even if the event is available to be streamed for free, as the CBS debate was.

Some will tell you that this is intentional. It’s been suggested that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, is "rigging" the debate process in an attempt to shield Hillary Clinton from public scrutiny. According to this theory, this explains why the DNC scheduled so few debates to begin with (six), and why several are on nights that probably won’t get many viewers. The next two, for example, are set to be held on the Saturday night before Christmas and the weekend of the NFL playoffs, respectively.


But there’s another explanation for the poor viewership of yesterday’s debate, one that’s less conspiratorial and much more boring. It could be that, with the election still a year away, people are simply getting tired of watching these things. There have been a total of seven debates or debate-like events, so far: four Republican, two Democratic, and one Democratic forum in which the candidates didn’t actually interact with one another.

Sure, it was exciting to see Clinton back on a debate stage for the first time in seven years. Everyone was at least a little curious to see how Donald Trump would fare. And even casual viewers were probably a bit curious to see Bernie Sanders give Clinton a run for her money in front of a live studio audience. Now that those milestones have come and gone, though, casual viewers may simply want a break.

Thankfully, they’ll be getting one. The next debate, Republican or Democratic, isn’t for another month. Just in time for Christmas! After that, however, it’s full steam ahead: There are nine more debates scheduled in 2016. That means we’re less than halfway through the total number of primary debates that will take place during the entire cycle. Oh, and that’s not including the actual presidential debates between the two eventual nominees, or the vice presidential forums.

There are more than enough debates around the corner. There may not, however, be enough viewers to justify them.