ABC’s Republican primary debate drew an average of 13.2 million viewers over its three hours, and did so on a Saturday night. Other than sports programming, this is the best Saturday night ABC has had since 2001. Saturday night’s debate also beat the previous GOP debate, which did not air on a typically low-rated Saturday night. Thursday night’s Fox News debate earned just 12.5 million viewers.
The jump from 12.5 million weekday viewers to 13.2 million Saturday night viewers is all the more surprising due to the fact that, until this weekend, each GOP debate had earned fewer viewers than the previous one. The only exceptions are the two Fox Business News debates, but that network is available in far fewer households than its counterparts.
The presence of Donald Trump might have been the difference that delivered higher ratings for ABC on a Saturday night than Fox News received on a Thursday night. After Fox News released a snarky statement mocking Trump and his supporters, The Donald boycotted the “fair and balanced” network.
Saturday’s 13.2 million viewers might be far below the 24 million who tuned into the first 2016 Republican debate, but it still dwarfed the highest rated debate (7.6 million) from the last presidential cycle. Moreover, only 4.5 million tuned into the last Democrat debate.
Obviously, interest in the Republican battle is still high, which in this case is bad news for Marco Rubio. More than 13 million watched in real-time as the first-term Florida senator had what was by far his worst debate of year.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC