Palin-Biden debate sets TV ratings record

Sat Oct 4, 2008 6:23am EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sarah Palin's televised showdown with Joe Biden drew nearly 70 million U.S. viewers, far surpassing last week's John McCain-Barack Obama face-off and ranking as the most watched vice presidential debate ever.

Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, and Biden, the Democratic senator from Delaware, also drew the biggest audience of any nationally televised political debate in 16 years, going back to a matchup among then-President George H.W. Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot, according to ratings issued on Friday.

The three-way debate in October 1992, like the Palin-Biden contest on Thursday, pulled in 69.9 million viewers, Nielsen Media Research said.

Nielsen analyst Anne Elliot suggested that nearly 70 million viewers in 1992 represented a bigger achievement, given there were roughly 60 million fewer potential viewers in the United States then.

The tally for the Palin-Biden contest in St. Louis easily eclipsed the 52.4 million viewers who tuned in last Friday for this year's first presidential debate between McCain, an Arizona senator, and Obama, a senator from Illinois.

The Public Broadcasting Service, whose audience is not counted by Nielsen, estimated its network added 3.5 million viewers to the total for Palin and Biden, versus 2.6 million for McCain-Obama.

A larger-than-usual audience was expected for Palin and Biden going into their debate given the questions raised about the Alaska governor's readiness and the widespread lampooning of her previous appearances in the media.

Snap polls by CBS and CNN said most viewers thought Biden, who curbed his tendency to be verbose and maintained a respectful tone toward Palin, won the debate. But Republicans were cheered by Palin's confident performance.   Continued...

<p>Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) gestures during a response to Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin during the vice presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri October 2, 2008. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Pool</p>