Why the Times of the Democratic Debates Might Not Be Ideal

January 17th 2016

Ingrid Holmquist

Tuesday, Saturday, Saturday, and now, a holiday Sunday.

These are the days of the week of each of the past Democratic debates. All but one DNC debate has fallen on a weekend night. And Sunday night's debate is no exception, airing on NBC and YouTube.

If the goal is to get people to engage with the debate, react on social media, and make informed voter decisions — streaming the debate opposite popular network programming and at times when voters, particularly young ones, may have made plans — is counterproductive.

According to Vox, Saturday debates are historically uncommon. After analyzing every debate since the election in 2000, Vox found that only seven of them fell on a Saturday. That's seven out of 100 debates - all of which took a nose-dive in viewership. TV ratings are usually much lower on weekends, Vox reports. And of all the days to have an election - Thursdays, by far draw the most viewers.

Why people are criticizing the timing of the Democratic primary debates.

Sunday night marks the fourth Democratic primary debate. The first was on a Tuesday. Nice! The second was on a Saturday. Uh oh. The third? Saturday – the Saturday before Christmas, to be exact. Major uh oh. And tonight, a holiday Sunday.

However, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic Party, Schultz told CNN’s Brian Stelter that the decision was planned and that debate viewership is still up despite weekend programming.

Wasserman Schultz on 'Sunday Night Is a Terrible Night to Have a Debate'

She said that the DNC’s main debate partners are the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and the South Carolina Democratic Party and they urged the DNC to host the debate in Charleston over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

The first Democratic debate - the Tuesday debate - had 15.6 million watching. The following debates that were on Saturdays had 8.5 million (CBS) and 7.85 million (ABC) respectively. Those are stark differences in numbers.


According to new research out of the Pew Research Center, the debates are generating unprecedented interest in the 2016 campaign. According to the poll generated by Pew, 69 percent of people say they have watched at least some of the primary presidential debates. This was different from the past, compared to the 47 percent who said they watched the debates in 2007, which was the most recent election where both sides had contested nominations.

Strong interest in 2016 campaign, most say they have watched debates

While the study finds that, yes, more people are watching debates, it asserts that the public has mixed views of the campaign. The majority of people (67 percent) say they find the campaign interesting - an increase from the 2012 and 2008 campaigns - and about half (48 percent) of the public find the campaign to be informative. The poll doesn't go into detail about why more people are investing time in watching the debates.

Along with berating the timing of events, noting that Sunday is also “Downton Abbey night, Sunday night is Madam Detective night,” Stelter also urged Wasserman Schultz to say whether or not more debates will be added to the schedule. There are currently six planned, compared to the GOP's 12 debates. Her answer? The debates were calculated and it sounds like, no, there won’t be more added.

Wasserman Schultz notes that the GOP has a whopping 12 candidates while the DNC only has three, which goes in to why they have a different number of debates. She also asserts that the GOP “has a reality TV star” and compares it to watching “a trainwreck you can’t take your eyes off of.”

In the end, they both agree that there’s no number of debates or timing of debates that will satisfy everyone.

Those in the "no more weekend debates" camp have the last two debates to look forward to, which will be on Thursday, February 11 and Wednesday, March 9.

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