President Donald J. Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participated in separate town halls on Thursday. The ratings for Biden’s town hall surpassed the ratings for Trump’s: CNN reported that the Biden town hall on ABC averaged 14.1 million viewers in early Nielsen numbers, while Trump’s NBC town hall, which also was simulcast on MSNBC and CNBC, had a combined 13.1 million viewers.
Though the famously ratings-obsessed Trump did not tweet about the reaction to the event beyond claiming that his event received “very good reviews,” Biden press secretary TJ Ducklo argued in a tweet that Biden’s favorable ratings were due to voters being more interested in listening to the former vice president’s plans for responding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Turns out more people last night were interested in watching a leader with a clear plan to get this pandemic under control and Americans back to work, than the same combative, chaotic liar whose incompetence got us into this mess — regardless of how many channels he was on,” Ducklo said on Twitter.
The town halls were intended to give each politician a platform to connect with voters and serve as replacements for the second presidential debate, which was canceled shortly after Trump tested positive for the coronavirus. Though plans were made for the second debate to be held virtually, the Trump campaign objected to the virtual format, causing the event to be nixed.
The ratings for Thursday’s town halls were significantly lower than the first debate between Biden and Trump. Television viewership for recent political events during the 2020 election season have been lower than the ratings for their 2016 equivalents. For example, the first day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in August had around 19 million viewers split between the six largest television networks, which paled in comparison to viewership for the 2016 Democratic National Convention’s opening day, where the same six networks had almost 25 million viewers.
Similarly, the first Biden-Trump presidential debate on September 30 drew less viewers than the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump in 2016. The Biden-Trump debate drew 73 million viewers, while the first Clinton-Trump debate drew 84 million viewers.
The sole vice presidential debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence that took place on October 7 has been a ratings outlier in the 2020 election season. The vice presidential debate drew 57.9 million viewers, a significantly higher number than the 2016 vice presidential debate between Pence and Tim Kaine, which only drew in 37.2 million viewers. The 2020 vice presidential debate was the second most-watched of its kind in American history, behind the 69.6 million viewers that tuned in to the Biden-Sarah Palin debate in 2008.