The ratings are in and they’re the highest number of viewers for a first debate since 1980. That year, the only debate between President Carter and Ronald Reagan drew 80 million viewers.
Report from the New York Times:
The first of three presidential debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney reached more than 70 million viewers on Wednesday night.
Nielsen, a television measurement company, said 67.2 million viewers watched on television at home — the highest number for a first debate since 1980. That year, 80.6 million watched the only debate between President Jimmy Carter and the Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan.
A few second- and third-round presidential debates since then have attracted more than 67 million viewers, including the second debate of the 1992 cycle. Nonetheless, Wednesday’s totals were surprisingly high by almost any standard.
About 52.4 million viewers tuned into the first debate in 2008, according to Nielsen, though that debate was held on a Friday night, typically a lower-rated night of the week. About 62.5 million viewers tuned into the first debate in 2004, which similarly featured an incumbent president and a challenger.
That is a very large number which the Romney campaign has to be pleased with given this was the first time many Americans were being introduced to the former Massachusetts Governor.