There’s no doubt Tuesday night will make for must-watch TV; the question is, what will you be watching?
The ten Democratic candidates taking the debate stage Tuesday night in Detroit hope viewers will be tuning into CNN at 8:00 p.m. and not ABC’s popular reality show The Bachelorette, whose much-anticipated finale will air at the same time. The candidates are aiming to secure a key demographic that overlaps with The Bachelorette: women voters. They hope that support from women voters, who comprised nearly 57% of Democratic primary voters in 2018, can help guarantee their party’s nomination. They’re also playing a long game – they believe that having the support of women voters will help Democrats defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.
The first night of the July debates, whose headliners are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, will likely draw more viewers than night one in June. But it will be hard to attract the key female voters who watch The Bachelorette for several reasons. The Bacheloretteis heading into the two-part conclusion fresh off the season’s highest viewership, also the highest for the series in the last four years. The finale for this dramatic and popular season will almost certainly see increased viewership from last week’s 6.6 million people tuning in. But that’s not the only thing working against the CNN debate – most Bachelorette viewers watch the show live, and many fans even gather with friends and wine to have watch parties.
The second Democratic primary debate night in June broke the record for the largest TV audience for a Democratic primary debate with 18.1 million viewers. It featured frontrunner Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris; three of the four top-tier candidates. Tuesday’s debate does provide an interesting storyline with the two most progressive candidates – Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – squaring off for the first time. Sanders is a lively and bombastic personality, whereas Warren is regarded as being more wonkish and policy-oriented – dynamics that hardly guarantee explosive drama at the debate, especially compared to the must-see TV that The Bachelorette promises.
Another challenge for the Tuesday debate? It is lacking the candidate most likely to appeal to moderate Democratic female voters who will be choosing between The Bachelorette and the debates – former VP Joe Biden. This prediction is backed by the numbers – a whopping 33% of women support Biden, which is significant in a field of 20 candidates. Sanders and Warren, the stars of Tuesday night, garner 29% – combined – of women’s support.
The Tuesday debate also lacks two key points of tension that Wednesday will possess – the competition between Biden and Kamala Harris, and between Biden and Cory Booker. Harris went viral and received a bump in the polls after her recent attacks on Biden, and Booker has been consistently outspoken against Biden’s civil rights record. All three are entertaining and lively debaters, and there’s no question that both Harris and Booker believe that knocking down Biden is a crucial element to getting the keys to the White House.
It seems unlikely a debate that does not feature the frontrunner with Democratic primary women voters will drag women voters away from The Bachelorette on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see which of the candidates on stage that evening understand that fact, and how they adjust their respective debate strategy to earn support from viewers and make headlines.