As feared and predicted, 2nd Dem debate draws very small audience

As many predicted, the unusual experiment of hosting a Presidential debate on a Saturday night brought the Democrats very few viewers, clocking in at just 8.5 million for the night. This compares with 23m, 23m, 14m and 13m for the first four GOP debates, and 16m for the Democrat's only other debate. An audience tally so far:

The Republicans - The 4 GOP debates so far have reached 73m viewers or 18.25m per debate. If this average holds for the remaining 7 scheduled GOP debates the 11 GOP debates will reach a little more than 200 million viewers.

The Democrats – The 2 Democratic debates so far have reached almost 25 million viewers, or 12.5m per debate. If his averages holds the 6 Dem debates will reach a total of 75 million viewers. With 2 of the 4 remaining debates on weekends, another in Spanish and the other on a non-commercial broadcast network, it is possible that the total will come closer to 60 million than 75 million  The Republicans, of course, have already  reached the 75m mark after just 4 debates with a superior approach.

Two additional observations:

GOP will reach three times as many people - At this rate the Republicans are on track to reach three times as many people through their debates as the Democrats will.  The gap is about 125m-140m, or about the same number of people who will vote in the general election next year.  And keep in mind this gap is magnified by the time people are spending watching these debates (far more than a 30 second spot), and the days of free media generated by the debates themselves. It is hard to put an exact figure on all this but it is safe to say that the DNC has made a choice to give the RNC a free media advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars this primary season, or the equivalent of what a large Super PAC is likely to spend this entire cycle.

Reliance on broadcast to deliver was a mistake - In a Friday Politico story, a DNC official defended its schedule by saying they were going for bigger audiences with the big broadcast networks. While in the abstract going with the big broadcast networks could have produced large audiences, weeknight debates even with low rated cable networks like CNN and Fox Business have produced audiences twice as large as the Democratic debate last night. In the social media and digital age, viewers can find other TV channels if sent there through aggressive marketing. The value of traditional networks for aggregating audience just simply isn't what it used to be (and I say this as an ABC News alum) and their audiences skew old. The Democratic coalition of course is much younger, and not avid TV watchers.  Reaching large number of Democrats would have required an entirely different approach than the one the DNC has pursued this cycle.

As we've been writing for months now, the Republicans have produced a far better debate approach than the Democrats.  It is critical that while there is still time the DNC take steps to close the gap with the GOP.  Failure to do so will make the job of every Democratic candidate that much harder next year. 

Note: this piece has been updated.  Early estimates had the audience last night at 7.2m.  Late this afternoon these estimates were updated to 8.5m.  We updated the analysis above to reflect the more accurate and larger figure.