Biden outdoes Trump in TV ratings for town halls

Mr Joe Biden averaged 15.1 million viewers while President Donald Trump pulled in 13.5 million.
Mr Joe Biden averaged 15.1 million viewers while President Donald Trump pulled in 13.5 million.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • Television ratings matter to US President Donald Trump. So these numbers may sting.

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

Mr 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 Mr Trump's event even though the President monopolised three networks - NBC, MSNBC and CNBC - simultaneously.

The town halls were vastly different television spectacles, befitting their respective protagonists.

For an hour on NBC, Mr Trump was darting and defiant as the Today show's host Savannah Guthrie pressed him to denounce QAnon and white supremacy (Mr Trump hesitated on both) and clear up questions about his medical condition.

On ABC, Mr Biden and the moderator, Mr George Stephanopoulos, engaged in a sober 90-minute policy discussion more akin to a PBS telecast.

Media company 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 Mr Trump at the same time as Mr 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 Mr Biden at his NBC town hall on Oct 5.

Critics, including MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, suggested that NBC had erred in allowing Mr Trump to appear at the same time as Mr Biden.

It appears that Mr 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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2020, with the headline 'Biden outdoes Trump in TV ratings for town halls'. Print Edition | Subscribe