How many people watched the presidential debate last night? Trump, Clinton draw record audience
Published 7:08 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Staff and Wire Report
From senior centers to college campuses and bars featuring campaign-themed cocktails, Americans laughed, cheered and jeered through the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Viewers tuned in Monday on their TVs, cellphones and radios to watch and listen to the showdown between the two major presidential candidates.
But, inquiring minds want to know: How many people watched the presidential debate last night?
Early numbers from Neilsen show that an all-time record number of 80.9 million people watched the debate across 12 channels. That does not include all streaming audience, which would raise the total millions. So, when the numbers are finally tallied it could be close to 90 million — the most people to ever watch a U.S. presidential debate by far.
Here are some of the scenes across the U.S. as people watched the event:
LAS VEGAS: A party at the Atria Sunlake retirement home in Las Vegas started with about 15 people, but some residents dozed off during the event and the crowd thinned to about half of that with 30 minutes left.
“I don’t know if Hillary will be able to shut the big mouth down,” said Joan Moelter, 81, as she polished off a dinner of chicken and crabcakes with her new 86-year-old boyfriend.
A Minnesota native, Moelter owned two Dairy Queen restaurants and has long considered herself a Republican. She’s rooting for Clinton this time around.
Shirley Ball, 89, squeezed onto a loveseat with her friend and was wrapped up in the debate to the bitter end.
Ball describes herself as a Democrat but said she’ll be voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson. She can’t bring herself to back Clinton or Trump.
“I don’t want to waste my vote on either one of them,” the former medical assistant said.
RALEIGH, North Carolina: At the all-women’s Meredith College more than 75 students, faculty and guests listened carefully and quietly, save for a few laughs or short bursts of applause.
That’s partially because the watch party was part of a campus initiative focusing on civil dialogue.
But it’s also because many of them had the night’s popular accessory: an “ELECTO” card, based on the popular bingo game. Each square was a likely phrase or word Clinton, Trump or moderator Lester Holt might say, like “Let’s move on,” ”Gender Gap,” and “Obamacare.”
Student Breanna Harmon, 18, joked that there were some unexpected phrases left out on her card, like “Trumped up” and anything to do with China. Harmon, an independent voter who likes Trump’s business background, said she was taken aback by Clinton’s aggressive style early.
“I was surprised to see her throw the first shade at Donald Trump,” Harmon said. “I thought it would be Trump.”
CLEVELAND: Less than a mile from where Trump accepted the Republican nomination two months ago, hundreds of people attended a party called “Desserts & Debate.”
The non-partisan event was free and part of the Greater Cleveland Caucus, a year-long series of events led by the nonprofit Cleveland Foundation. More than 400 people registered and many of them filled chairs in the historic Calfee Building.
Tom Jordan, a 36-year-old urban planner, said he liked “that it’s not just a one-sided crowd.”
Still, Jordan said he’ll likely vote for Clinton.
“I’m one of those people who bought the media narrative going back to the ’90s that Hillary’s kind of unlikable. But, I’m impressed with her so far. I think she just comes across as presidential and professional.”
PHOENIX: DeSoto Central Market in this city’s redeveloping downtown set out extra tables and chairs to accommodate more than 100 people in a space where patrons often play board games or do yoga. Monday night, the market bar served up drinks inspired by the candidates’ signature looks: “The Pant Suit” for Clinton and “The Hair Piece” for Trump.
Two TVs were tuned to Monday Night Football, but the debate was the focus among the many young professionals who hooted and hollered.
Nick Dillon live-tweeted while many around him dined on gourmet burgers and tacos. He said he won’t vote for Trump, but Clinton’s email scandal gives him pause. The 24-year-old middle school teacher is deciding whether to vote for her or a third-party candidate.
Partisan politics turn Dillon off, but he said he must weigh those concerns with whether voting for an alternative party might hand Trump the presidency. Race relations will influence his decision.
“That’s one of the things that’s very much worsening in our community, in our country. I don’t’ see it getting better under him.”
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida: Bartenders mixed cocktails and took orders for croquettes and hummus appetizers as MSNBC blared in the background at The Queenshead restaurant and bar.
Outdoors, the debated as projected on a large screen. The largely Democratic crowd applauded and laughed when Clinton mentioned that Trump “lived in his own reality.”
Richard Florence, a 38-year-old artist, drank from a bottle of Bud Light as he watched. He said he wasn’t impressed with either candidate and was considering a protest vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
“This, to me, spiritually, is gross,” he said.
STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania: Around a hundred students munched on pizza and chatted about politics in an auditorium at Pennsylvania State University.
Chris Baker, a senior and the leader of the pro-Trump group on campus, said he thought his candidate had the edge during the debate.
“When he said that he would release his tax returns when Hillary Clinton releases her emails, I thought that was a strike from Donald Trump directly at Hillary Clinton that she cannot respond to.”
Freshman Greg Gavazzi said he is a Clinton supporter — but Trump surprised him.
“Trump is a lot more poised than I expected him to be,” Gavazzi said.
CENTENNIAL, Colorado: Two former Colorado state lawmakers — one conservative, the other liberal — hosted a bipartisan watch party, hoping to promote what they feel is a lack of dialogue this election cycle.
They accomplished that: The 25 people jammed into a basement in this Denver suburb civilly discussed the debate afterward.
But the legislators left unfulfilled.
“I think this debate was more about entertainment than about issues that touch all Americans,” said Aly Schmidt, a health care lobbyist and registered Republican who hasn’t decided who to vote for.
Party attendee Khadija Haynes, a Denver political organizer who backs Clinton, said she was disappointed that both candidates responded to a question on race relations by referring to crime.
“Their answers were racist by equating that with gun violence,” said Haynes. “Crime is a symptom of the disease. And both of them gave us an aspirin answer to a cancer question.”
DES MOINES, Iowa: Drake University Democrats and Drake College Republicans used their joint watch party to launch a live poll for audience members to answer questions about the debate.
At the start, organizers asked students to go to a special website to answer questions that refreshed about every 10 minutes.
An average of between 40 and 70 students responded to each question, according to Zachary Blevins, a senior and treasurer for Drake Democrats.
The questions for the unscientific poll ranged from whether students planned to vote to which candidate had the most to lose from the debate. Students received real-time results while they watched.
Blevins said the groups didn’t want to have too much of a partisan leaning.
ATLANTA: More than 60 people watched at Stats, a sports bar near Centennial Olympic Park, at a party hosted by the Urban League of Greater Atlanta Young Professionals.
An attorney, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a photographer were among those watching.
Wade Ivy, who plans to vote for Clinton, said the group watching with her is diverse and that some people are undecided on who to vote for.
“Hearing the policy positions of each of the candidates, how aggressive or not aggressive they are, that may sway some people here,” the 38-year-old Ivy said.
DETROIT: Some students at Wayne State University were offered extra credit to watch the debate at the Student Center. They munched on cookies and pretzels provided by instructors during the show.
Andrew Malec, president of the campus Republican group, and says he will most likely vote for Trump. But he enjoyed the candidates’ interactions.
“They’ve both brought their ‘A’ games,” Malec said. “Donald Trump isn’t letting Hillary Clinton get away with sound bites.”
Causey reported from Phoenix and Rindels from Las Vegas. Associated Press reporters Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Corey Williams in Detroit; Mike Householder in Cleveland; Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa; Dake Kang at State College, Pennsylvania; Alex Sanz in Atlanta; and Jim Anderson in Centennial, Colorado contributed.