WASHINGTON — The rollicking debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul D. Ryan Thursday night drew 51.4 million television viewers, a 26% smaller audience than watched Biden face off against Sarah Palin in 2008, according to Nielsen. That much-anticipated showdown drew close to 70 million viewers and was on in 45% of households in top local markets.
But Thursday’s event still drew one of the most sizable audiences for a vice presidential debate in recent elections. Other than 2008, the last vice presidential debate that had more viewers was during the 1984 campaign, when 56.7 million viewers watched George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferarro face off.
Nielsen’s ratings do not capture viewers who streamed the debate online. Nevertheless, it appears a healthy number of young people watched the debate the old-fashioned way: More than 7 million ages 18 to 34 were among the television viewers, Nielsen reported.
It remains to be seen whether the audience for the next two presidential debates will top the 67.2 million viewers who tuned in to the first showdown between President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Oct. 3. The two men next debate Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.