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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde January 21, 2020

Facebook post makes false comparison on viewership for Democratic debate, Donald Trump rally

If Your Time is short

  • The post vastly underreported viewership for the Democratic debate aired on CNN; 7.3 million viewers on TV alone.
  • Fox Business aired the whole rally and pulled in 662,000 viewers at 8 p.m. and 476,000 viewers at 9 p.m.
  • No indication that 6.7 million people watched Trump's rally in its entirety.

A Facebook post claims that far more people tuned in to watch a rally for President Donald Trump than to view the Democratic presidential debate televised the same night.

"CNN reports DemDebate had 2.3 million viewers. Trump rally had 6.7 million last night!" said a Jan. 15 Facebook post, published a day after the Democratic debate in Iowa and the Trump rally in Wisconsin

The post, shared more than 700 times, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

It’s inaccurate. CNN said the debate had an average 7.3 million television viewers, plus 4 million live starts on CNN’s platforms such as CNN.com and mobile apps. (Live starts refers to the number of times a play button was clicked on during a live event, or if a user opened the CNNgo app via Apple TV and selected "live TV" to start playing the debate.)

The debate started at 9 p.m. eastern time and ended shortly after 11 p.m., and Trump’s rally began shortly after 8 p.m. eastern time. He spoke for about 1.5 hours at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in Milwaukee, Wisc. (The arena’s capacity is 12,700.)

Neither the White House nor Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign provided viewership numbers for Trump’s Milwaukee rally. 

Featured Fact-check

Fox Business channel aired the rally in its entirety. It had about 662,000 total viewers during the 8 p.m. time slot, and about 476,000 total viewers in the 9 p.m. hour, according to Nielsen data. 

Fox News channel’s 8 p.m. show, "Tucker Carlson Tonight," aired the rally for 1 minute and had about 3.3 million total viewers for the show’s entirety. Fox News’ 9 p.m. show, "Hannity," aired it for 12 minutes and the show had about 3.4 million total viewers. (Those two shows usually have about that many viewers.)

MSNBC did not air the rally, according to a review of MSNBC programming on the media monitoring service TVEyes. An ABC spokesperson said the network did not air the rally live on television, and while it did provide streaming of the event online at ABC News Live, it did not provide viewer numbers. PolitiFact also asked CBS and NBC if they aired the rally live in its entirety or in part, but we did not get a response.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said, "CNN reports DemDebate had 2.3 million viewers. Trump rally had 6.7 million last night!"

The post vastly underreported the viewership numbers for the Democratic debate aired on CNN; there were 7.3 million viewers on TV alone. As to the number of viewers the Trump rally received, we know that Fox Business, a cable channel that aired the rally in its entirety (as CNN did for the debate), pulled in 662,000 viewers at 8 p.m. and 476,000 viewers at 9 p.m.

Combined, "Hannity" and "Tucker Carlson Tonight," two top shows on Fox News, aired less than 15 minutes of the hour-plus Trump rally. Each show had more than 3 million viewers that night, as they typically do. But it would be a stretch to conclude that the millions who watched the two shows equal millions who tuned in to solely watch Trump’s rally.

The Facebook post makes a claim with numbers that don’t add up. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, published Jan. 15, 2020

CNN, CNN Debate Attracts 7.3 Million Viewers on CNN and Four Million Live Stream Starts, Jan. 15, 2020

PolitiFact Wisconsin, President Trump's memorable lines at Milwaukee rally fact-checked, Jan. 15, 2020

PolitiFact, Fact-checking the seventh Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, Jan. 15, 2020

UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, capacity information

Email interview, Fox News media office, Jan. 17, 2020

Email interview, CNN press media office, Jan. 17, 2020

Fox News, Fox News boasts best primetime ratings ever, finishes on top of basic cable for 4th straight year, Dec. 11, 2019

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More by Miriam Valverde

Facebook post makes false comparison on viewership for Democratic debate, Donald Trump rally

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