Americans could not get enough of the vice-presidential match.
Just shy of 70 million viewers tuned in Thursday night to witness the 90-minute bout between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. - more than any vice-presidential debate in American history, more than any debate since possibly 1980, and 35 percent more than the number who saw the first presidential debate between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama
According to audience estimates from Nielsen Media Research on Friday, the Biden/Palin clash drew 69,989,000 viewers, which “set a new V.P. debate TV audience record, beating the previous high of 56.7 million viewers set by the debate between Rep. Geraldine Ferraro and then-V.P. George H.W. Bush in 1984.”
Slightly more than 52 million people watched Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama on Sept. 26 - the lowest rated presidential debate ever.
Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter attracted U.S. history’s largest audience in 1980, with 81 million viewers. The 1992 three-way debate among Bill Clinton, Mr. Bush and Ross Perot drew the same rounded-off figure as did Palin/Biden, 69.9 million, Nielsen reported.
Other indicators speak for intense national interest in the Palin/Biden matchup, prompted by the novelty of both the second woman on a major-party ticket and the intense scrutiny surrounding recent coverage of the relatively unknown Mrs. Palin.
The debate was the most-watched news event ever for Fox News (11.1 million), and the third most-watched event in the history of CNN (10.7 million). The viewership was also more than 60 percent higher than the last vice-presidential debate: Just 44 million saw the 2004 exchange between Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat John Edwards.
Analysis was intense in the aftermath, with close to 6,000 stories appearing in print sources by late Friday, according to Google News. Commentary, fact-checking and pointed observations vied for public attention.
“Gov. Palin has some great cheekbones and, according to a female colleague of mine, had her hair highlights done recently and expertly, and knows how to slap on contour powder. No spackle pancake for this soccer mom,” observed Phil Bronstein of the San Francisco Chronicle.
“But let me dip gingerly into the most delicate places: … that cosmetic surgery, Sen. Biden? Say it ain’t so, Joe. There it is however: teeth so white they make Chiclets look gray, an old set of hair plugs and what certainly seems to be some serious eye work,” Mr. Bronstein said.
“Last night was political theater, not a real debate,” said Alan Siegel, founder of Siegel+Gale , a New York marketing group.
“The American people are yearning to hear the authentic, credible voices of the candidates in these debates - not prepackaged message points, winks, or posturing,” Mr. Siegel said.