TV debate audience YUGE — record 84M watch Trump-Clinton slugfest

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the Sept. 26 debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. | AP

NEW YORK— The showdown between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was the most-watched presidential debate ever, with 84 million viewers.

The Nielsen company said the viewership, over 13 different networks, toppled a record that had stood for 36 years. The previous record for presidential debate viewership was the 80.6 million people who saw the only debate in 1980 between incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter and his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.

At the time of the Carter-Reagan debate, the U.S. population was 226 million. Now, it is 324 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

No debate since then had exceeded 70 million viewers.

Social media was humming, too, with Nielsen saying there were some 17.1 million Twitter interactions involving 2.7 million people on Monday. Tivo said that the moment during the debate that caused more people to pause their television and play back what was said came near the end, when Trump said that he will “absolutely support” Clinton if she is elected president.

Clinton has some bragging rights at home. When final results are in, the audience for her first presidential debate will more than double what her husband, former President Bill Clinton, received for his last presidential debate in 1996 (36.3 million viewers).

Only the Super Bowl annually commands a television audience of that size. The biggest audience in U.S. television history was the 114.4 million people who watched the 2015 Super Bowl between New England and Seattle.

The second of three scheduled debates will be Oct. 9. The “town hall”-style forum will be moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC News’ Martha Raddatz.

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