V.P. debate in Utah was second-most-watched ever

(Justin Sullivan/Pool via AP) Vice President Mike Pence listens as Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the vice presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Wednesday night’s Mike Pence-Kamala Harris matchup was the second-most-watched vice presidential debate since they started in 1976. Only the 2008 matchup between then-Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attracted more eyeballs.

According to Nielsen, 59 million tuned in across 18 news outlets. Fox News led the way with 11.5 million viewers. About 35 million people watched the debate between Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine four years ago.

The top-three most-watched V.P. debates all featured a female candidate.

The 2008 debate between Biden and Palin was the most-watched with just under 70 million people tuning in. Third on the list is the 1984 meeting between then-Vice President George Bush and Rep. Geraldine Ferarro with 56.7 million viewers.

Prior to the debate, held at the University of Utah, there was some speculation among organizers that it might become the most-watched presidential sidekick matchup ever, especially coming on the heels of last week’s chaotic, interruption-filled debate between President Donald Trump and Biden.

“It just shows the interest in this debate,” said Jason Perry, the director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. “The spotlight was on the state of Utah for the biggest political event of the week, and the state showed quite well.”

It’s entirely possible that Wednesday night was the last national debate of this presidential contest. Trump said Thursday he would not participate in the next debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, because it would be conducted remotely, putting the remaining debates in jeopardy.

“The fact that the political cycle moves on to the next story is something we all expect,” Perry said. “The impacts of this debate will be felt all the way through November, whether or not there is another presidential debate.”

Following Trump’s insistence he would not take part in the second debate because of the format change, Biden agreed to participate in a town hall event with ABC News next Thursday, the very same night he was set to debate Trump.