Fox News GOP Presidential Debate Draws a Whopping 12.8 Million Viewers

AP/Morry Gash

The first GOP Debate of the 2024 Election cycle turned out to be a ratings boon for Fox News. Even without a showing from former President Donald J. Trump, who partnered with former Fox News star host Tucker Carlson to do a competing interview, the network somehow managed to make a better showing in the ratings on Wednesday than they did in 2016 and 2020.

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FOX News Media’s "Democracy 24: FOX News Republican Primary Debate" drew a staggering 12.8 million total viewers on Wednesday night, making it the most-watched, non-sporting event cable telecast of the year.

The debate drew 2.8 million viewers from the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults age 25-54, and outdrew 70% of presidential primary debates in the 2016 and 2020 cycles.

Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum moderated that debate that featured North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

The star power of former hosts like Megyn Kelly and Carlson was missing. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are solid rather than showy, and they both tended to come off as patrician. 

The debate, which aired on Fox News Channel, FOX Business, FOX Nation and on Fox News Digital, drew a larger audience than the network’s previous debate in Iowa in January 2016 without then-candidate Donald Trump which averaged 12.5 million total viewers.

Fox News Channel drew 11.1 million total viewers and 2.4 million in the critical demo alone to top Paramount’s "Yellowstone," for the most-watched, non-sport cable program of 2023. It also outdrew programming on ABC, CBS, NBC combined. 

FOX Business attracted another 1.7 million total viewers with 401,000 in the demo.

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While Baier and MacCallum managed to wrangle and rein in the eight candidates chomping at the bit to prove it is they who would make the best president and aiming fire at each other, the evening was ripe with missed opportunities, questions that should have never made the cut, and questions that should have been asked that were left off the table. As my colleague Nick Arama wrote,

The Republican debate was Wednesday night, and I have to say I was somewhat disappointed that the debate didn't spend time on the economy, how horrible Joe Biden is, and the weaponization of the government against political opponents and the American people. It seems like the candidates spent more time trying to verbally take on Vivek Ramaswamy than Joe Biden. It was clear that they were concerned about Ramaswamy's numbers when the rest were mainly in single digits,. They were hoping to have that springboard moment off of him. But I think that only focused more attention on him, rather than on them. "Vivek" was trending this morning on C, polls running this morning like the Drudge poll had him polling as the winner. 

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As Arama also reported, Trump's Tucker interview was none too shabby either. As of this writing, the episode has seen 281.1 million views

The second GOP debate is scheduled for September 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation in Simi Valley, California. FOX Business is slated to host.

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