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World News

Nearly 58 million watch VP debate, big jump from 2016

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris take part in the 2020 vice presidential debate moderated by Susan Page of USA Today, on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., October 7, 2020. Justin Sullivan/Pool via REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s debate with Democrat Kamala Harris attracted 57.9 million TV viewers, the second-highest audience ever for a matchup between vice presidential candidates, according to Nielsen data released on Thursday.

The viewership figure for the Wednesday evening faceoff in Salt Lake City included people watching across 18 networks. The tally came in 56% higher than four years ago, when 37 million people tuned in to see Pence debate Democrat Tim Kaine.

During the policy-heavy 90-minute event, Pence and Harris clashed over the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vice presidential debates typically draw smaller audiences than presidential clashes. President Donald Trump’s Sept. 29 debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden pulled in 73 million viewers, making it the second-biggest event on U.S. television this year, after the Super Bowl.

The TV viewing record for a vice presidential debate was set in 2008, when Biden debated Republican Sarah Palin. That telecast drew 69.9 million viewers.

For the Pence-Harris matchup, Fox News Channel FOXA.O led all networks, with 11.9 million viewers.

The Nielsen numbers included people watching at home and at such venues as bars and restaurants. It also included some digital viewership through televisions connected to the internet.

The figures do not capture the full extent of online viewing, which has grown in popularity as traditional TV audiences decline, however. The debate was streamed live on Twitter, YouTube, network websites and other digital platforms.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Howard Goller, Rosalba O’Brien and Sonya Hepinstall

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