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Everything you need to know about Sunday’s Democratic debate

The fourth time's a charm.


Amrita Khalid


Posted on Jan 17, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 8:49 am CDT

Are you one of the five people in America who doesn’t like the NFL or Downtown Abbey? Good news: There’s still something for you to watch on television Sunday night. 

The fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2016 election, featuring presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Martin O’Malley, will kick off Sunday in Charleston, South Carolina

Following the Democrat’s theme of seemingly timing their debates to draw the least amount of viewers possible (the last two were held on Saturday nights), this upcoming Charleston debate will coincide with NFL playoffs and a new episode of Downtown Abbey

That’s right, the American people will be asked to choose between their love of a British period drama or the Pittsburgh Steelers in order to watch Clinton and Sanders go head-to-head about the country’s future. Who’s with us?! Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? 

Wait, then why should I watch the debate? 

First off, this is the last time you’ll see the Democratic candidates in front of a national audience before primary voting officially kicks off in Iowa (Feb.1) and New Hampshire (Feb.9). And if Thursday’s surprisingly feisty Republican debate is any indicator, underdog candidates will be feeling the pressure to perform well in the final stretch. 

O’Malley was dangerously close to missing the 5 percent cut-off in polls to qualify for this debate, which would have been a fatal blow to the former Maryland governor’s already suffering campaign. Given this near miss, O’Malley may start throwing punches just to get him back into the fight. 

Finally, while Clinton is still the Democratic frontrunner, it’s not by much—at least not in Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders has made steady gains on Clinton since the holidays, and is now only 2 points behind the party favorite in the recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll. To add more fuel to the fire, Sanders is leading Clinton in New Hampshire by 6 points, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls. (Beyond New Hampshire, however, Clinton is dominating—including in South Carolina, where Clinton is up 40 points.) The fact that it’s a tighter race will surely make things more interesting on the debate stage. 

There’s also new tension in Clinton’s and Sander’s otherwise cordial relationship. Sanders aired a negative ad this week that many thought was directed at Clinton. While Sanders has denied his ad on Wall Street has anything to do with Clinton, the former secretary of state is not buying it

To make things even more interesting, Sunday’s debate is also sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. As the Washington Post points out, most of the 46 members of the CBC have endorsed Clinton, including its chairman, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). 

OK, I’m like 20 percent interested. When is the debate? How can I watch it? Is it on a weird news channel like Fox Business that no one watches? 

The ill-timed event is thankfully sponsored by NBC and YouTube, which at the very least allows both cordcutters and those with basic cable to view Sunday’s rhetorical fireworks on whatever platform best pleases them. 

For the first group, livestream coverage on and will begin at 8pm CT/9pm ET. The NBC News app is also available for Android users  and for iOS. You can also watch the debate with the NBC app on Roku or Apple TV, as well as through the Amazon app or FireTV

Prefer regular ol’ TV? You can catch the debates beginning at 9pm ET on any NBC station. 

If, however, you simply want to casually follow along on Twitter while you watch football, check out the #DemDebate hashtag and join us at @DotPolitics for enough fact-checks and GIFs to please a British aristocrat.

Correction: Sunday’s debate begins at 9pm ET.

Photo by Donkey Hotey/(Flickr BY CC 2.0)

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*First Published: Jan 17, 2016, 11:00 am CST