Biden beats Trump in ratings battle of the network town halls

Biden’s town-hall meeting was seen by an average of 15.1 million viewers, compared with 13.5 million for Trump.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos at a town hall format meeting at the National Constitution Center October 15, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos at a town hall format meeting at the National Constitution Center October 15, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. –Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Television ratings matter to President Donald Trump. So these numbers may sting.

In a victory that few in the TV and political arenas predicted, Joe Biden’s town hall-style forum on ABC on Thursday night drew a larger audience than Trump’s competing event on NBC, according to Nielsen.

Biden’s town-hall meeting, which aired on a single network, was seen by an average of 15.1 million viewers, compared with 13.5 million for Trump even though the president monopolized three networks — NBC, MSNBC and CNBC — simultaneously.

The town halls were vastly different television spectacles, befitting their respective protagonists. For an hour on NBC, Trump was darting and defiant as the “Today” host Savannah Guthrie pressed him to denounce QAnon and white supremacy (Trump hesitated on both) and clear up questions about his medical condition.

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On ABC, Biden and the moderator George Stephanopoulos engaged in a sober 90-minute policy discussion more akin to a PBS telecast. (Politico wrote that flipping back and forth between the two was like “going from Bob Ross to ‘WrestleMania’.”)

NBC had drawn scorn for scheduling its event with Trump at the same time as Biden’s previously announced ABC forum. Executives at NBC News said it was a matter of fairness, saying they wanted the same conditions offered to Biden at his NBC town hall on Oct. 5. Critics, including the MSNBC star Rachel Maddow, suggested that NBC had erred in allowing Trump to appear at the same time as Biden.

It appears that Biden did not need to worry. And the fact that the Democrat outdrew his voluble Republican rival is likely to inspire dozens of hot takes about whether, after four seasons, Americans are simply growing bored with The Trump Show.

Viewership for Biden’s event, which began at 8 p.m., rose as the night continued, surging to an average audience of 16.7 million in the final 30 minutes after Trump and NBC’s forum had gone off the air, according to Nielsen. (Biden’s viewership bested Trump even without the assist from his extra half-hour).

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At a rally in Ocala, Florida, on Friday, Trump complained that Biden was given “easy questions” by ABC and claimed, without basis, that Guthrie was “not too popular right now.”

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