Maybe Americans are starting to get fed up with the ugly tone of this strange presidential election. Maybe viewers are tired of R-rated video clips and scorched-earth attacks.
Or maybe people just prefer football.
Whatever the reason, the audience for Sunday night’s bout between the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican hopeful Donald Trump fell sharply from their first debate. About 66.5 million people watched on television, according to Nielsen, down 20 percent from the record 84 million who tuned in last month.
Sunday’s figure was nothing to sneeze at. It was roughly the same number of people who watched the first two debates between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. And it is unusual for a second debate to draw a bigger audience than the first.
Still, the release on Friday of a bombshell recording, which showed Trump boasting in vulgar terms about aggressively kissing and groping women, had seemed to promise a dramatic showdown, on a night of the week when many Americans stay in.
But one broadcast network, NBC, ran an NFL game instead of the debate. There was a baseball playoff game airing on TBS. And, perhaps, the novelty of Clinton and Trump clashing on the same stage had worn thin.
CBS had the largest viewership of any network, with about 16.5 million viewers. CNN, whose anchor Anderson Cooper served as a moderator alongside Martha Raddatz of ABC News, was the winner on cable, drawing 11.2 million viewers, its biggest-ever debate audience.
Facebook and Twitter reported significant jumps in activity on Sunday evening. The Nielsen ratings did not include viewers of C-SPAN, nor Americans who streamed the debate on their computers or on their mobile devices.