The highest rated Democratic presidential debate in history was the 2008 debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Though Obama was not yet the luminary he soon became, that April 16, 2008 Democratic debate drew 10.6 million viewers to ABC. That number — the best ever for the Dems — still pales in comparison to the recent GOP debates, which featured media force-of-nature Donald Trump. The two 2015 debates featuring billionaire reality TV star Trump, one on FOX and one on CNN, both drew double that figure — topping 20 million viewers. (24 million on FOX in August and 23 million on CNN in September.)
Of those in the current race for the Democrat nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders stand far above their competitors — and fellow debaters — in the polls. Many onlookers believe that despite the five candidates on stage, the October 13 debate on CNN is essentially a two-person contest: Clinton v. Sanders. At least that’s who people will initially tune in to see. (Chafee or others might win supporters as the debate goes on.) One way to compare the surging Bernie Sanders’ viability as a candidate who can go all the way is to compare the current debate ratings to that 2008 debate. Hillary Clinton was a main player in both: can a Sanders v. Clinton debate hit the 10 million viewer mark like that Obama v. Clinton debate did? Obama was able to “get out the viewers” and later to get out the vote.