WASHINGTON — It turns out the 2016 presidential candidates haven’t just been preaching to the choir in all those debates.
Americans have fallen into three camps when it comes to watching the debates: Some have been watching only the Republicans, slightly more have watched only the Democrats and a still larger group has used the debates to check out candidates on both sides.
Those who dipped into debates in both parties have turned out to be the biggest political junkies of them all: They accounted for 39 percent of total debate viewers, but did 73 percent of all the watching.
That’s all according to figures released Thursday by Nielsen for its new “Election Central” political insights blog. The company analyzed viewership for 12 debates — the first six in each party.
Nielsen concluded that the figures may signify that “the more engaged viewer finds the time to balance both sides of the political pontification.”
The dozen debates that were studied reached 97 million Americans, including 29.2 million who watched only GOP debates, 30.2 million who watched only Democrats, and 37.8 million who watched debates on both sides.
While the Democratic debates may have attracted slightly more eyeballs, the Republicans — usually with brassy former reality TV star Donald Trump at center stage — held on to their viewers far longer.
The debate-watchers spent an average of 138 minutes watching GOP debates, compared to 63 minutes watching the Democrats.
So far, the Republicans have held a dozen debates and the Democrats eight. With Trump and Hillary Clinton steadily padding their delegate leads, the debate season is now winding down.
Plans for a GOP debate on Monday in Salt Lake City collapsed on Thursday after Trump said he wouldn’t attend and then John Kasich decided to bow out, too.
Democrats have sanctioned two more debates, one in April and one in May, but no dates or locations have been set.
The debates have been a big draw all season, starting with the 24 million viewers who tuned in for the first Republican face-off last summer on Fox. The most recent GOP debate averaged just under 17 million viewers. The Democratic debates have attracted smaller but still sizeable crowds, including 15.8 million for the first debate and 6 million for the most recent faceoff.