Ratings are usually a mere curiosity when it comes to debates. It took on a new meaning last night, when polls showed Donald Trump close to 60% of Republican primary voters and a high percentage of them had already made their mind up.
How much would it interest you to hear from a group of non-Trump nominees if the former president skipped the debate again?
According to Nielsen ratings, the answer is about 9,3 million people. This is a dramatic drop from the previous debate, which also took place without Trump but attracted approximately 12.8 million viewers. This is also -- by a large margin -- the lowest television audience for any Republican Presidential debate since the beginning of 2016, when Trump became a candidate.
Here is a graph of the estimated viewers for all GOP debates from 2016 onwards. It's true that TV and streaming have changed dramatically over the past eight years, which could explain some of the audience decline. But there is no way to deny that last night was a low point for GOP debate interest during the Trump era.
Even though the debate was broadcasted on Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel, as well as Univision, the audience was still 3.4 million less than that of the first GOP Debate, which took place just a month earlier, hosted by Fox News Channel. This is a 27% decline. The decline between the two debates in the 2016 cycle, both of which featured Trump, was only 4%.
Fox News announced in a Thursday press release that another 200,000 viewers viewed the content on streaming platforms. The chart below only shows TV viewing.