February 25, 2024

A town hall from Iowa featuring former President Trump that aired on Fox News outpaced the fifth Republican presidential primary debate in the ratings on Wednesday evening.  

Fox’s town hall with Trump averaged 4.3 million viewers from 9-10 p.m., according to early data from Nielsen Media Research, while the CNN debate featuring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley averaged 2.5 million during the same hour.  

The 2.5 million figure is more than double the viewers CNN typically pulls in during any hour in prime time on a weeknight, but it is just more than 60 percent of the 4 million who watched the fourth debate on cable news competitor NewsNation last month.  

The first two Republican debates, which aired on Fox News and Fox Business, netted 12.8 million and 9 million, respectively, with the third debate earning 7 million viewers who watched on NBC.

Wednesday night’s ratings returns are the latest signal that live events featuring Trump remain one of the largest drivers of audience for the nation’s cable news channels, all of which are facing major headwinds in the form of increased cord-cutting and changing media habits on the part of consumers.  

A town hall CNN hosted with Trump last year averaged north of 3 million viewers, the single largest ratings night for the network of 2023.  

During Wednesday night’s event on Fox, Trump said he has already decided who he would like to be his vice president but declined to name them and spent time taking questions from Iowa voters on issues ranging from abortion to immigration to the economy.  

On CNN, DeSantis and Haley traded barbs on one another’s records and argued about why they are best positioned to pose a challenge to Trump for the nomination.

Wednesday night was the first time Trump has appeared live on Fox’s airwaves since the network agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to Dominion Voting Systems last spring to settle a defamation lawsuit out of court stemming from its coverage of Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.  

Trump has skipped each of the GOP presidential primary debates since the race started, citing his double-digit lead in most polls. According to The Hill/Decision Desk HQ’s national polling average, the former president maintains a sizable lead in the GOP primary with 62.7 percent support compared to Haley’s 11.8 percent and DeSantis’s 11.1 percent.

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