On Thursday night, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump held separate town hall discussions in lieu of the scheduled debate. According to official Nielsen numbers, ABC News’ The Vice-President and the People received higher ratings than NBC’s town hall for Trump. Fourteen million people tuned in to ABC to watch the former vice president speak, only 13.5 million listened to the president on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC combined. However, Biden’s stronger viewership may also be indicative of MSNBC’s more liberal audience choosing not to watch the president.
Trump’s town hall event went from 8-9 p.m. EST, and Biden’s lasted from 8-9:30 p.m. EST, although he spent almost an hour after the conversation ended talking to voters one-on-one. In looking at the ratings from these separate televised events, Biden received a 2.9 in the 18-49s and a 3.7 in the 25-54s, whereas Trump received only a 2.1 in the 18-49s and a 3.0 in the 25-54s.
The separate town halls were initially supposed to take the form of a debate, but Trump refused to participate in a virtual debate. “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about,” he stated in phone interview with Fox Business. “You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want.” Following his opponent’s refusal to engage in a virtual debate, Biden accepted ABC’s invitation to conduct a televised town hall on Thursday, which then led Trump to accept NBC’s invitation to host his version of one. As a result, NBC received strong criticisms for its decision to force viewers to choose between watching either Trump or Biden.
The next presidential debate is set for October 22, where the two candidates will be on one television screen together.