MSNBC Debate Was Lowest-Rated of 2016 Election Cycle

Koch brothers say Rachel Maddow lied about its alleged support of a Florida welfare law requiring drug tests
Rachel Maddow / AP
February 5, 2016

Thursday night's MSNBC Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) was easily the lowest-rated debate of the 2016 cycle to date, CNN reports.

The left-leaning MSNBC, which has sought in the past year to move away from explicitly liberal commentary, is the lowest-rated of the three cable networks. Liberal commentator Rachel Maddow co-moderated the debate alongside Meet The Press host Chuck Todd:

It was the lowest-rated debate of the 2016 election cycle by far, according to preliminary Nielsen data. The debate had a 3.3 household rating in Nielsen's metered markets.

The prior low was a 6.0 household rating for ABC's Democratic debate on the Saturday night before Christmas.

MSNBC's debate was a late addition to the lineup, originally announced just over a week ago and not officially sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee until this week. But the channel heavily promoted the debate on Wednesday and Thursday.

The ratings results may suggest some measure of debate fatigue among viewers. MSNBC may have also faced structural disadvantages because it is generally lower-rated than Fox News or CNN.

Rating refers to the number of households that tuned in as a percentage of TV-equipped homes. Brian Stelter's report noted the previous Democratic debate, held on NBC, earned a 7.2 rating, more than double that of MSNBC's.

The last Republican debate, despite not having Donald Trump, earned an 8.4 rating on Fox News Channel.

The night was notable for being the first one-on-one debate of the campaign. The low-polling Martin O'Malley dropped out earlier this week when he was a non-factor in the Iowa caucuses.

Clinton and Sanders had sharp exchanges in the oftentimes contentious debate, with Clinton at one point accusing Sanders of running an "artful smear" campaign against her.

Maddow made a point of hugging both candidates on the debate stage afterwards, raising some eyebrows.