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UPDATED: Early ratings show ABC in the lead for election night viewership

November 5, 2008 |  9:08 am

Now that the presidential vote is in, we’re starting to get a sense of the results of another tightly contested race that was held Tuesday –- the competition between the television networks for the most election-night viewers.

Nielsen Media Research’s version of an exit poll is now available: the ratings from the 56 largest markets in the country, which make up about 70% of U.S. television households.

In those cities, ABC -– whose coverage was anchored by Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos -- garnered the biggest viewership in prime time, pulling in a 9.2 rating, meaning it was watched by 9.2% of TV households. It was followed by NBC, with an 8.3 rating, and CNN, which pulled in a rating of 8.0.

Fox News took fourth with 5.6, while CBS had 4.7 and MSNBC had 4.0.

If those figures hold, that would give ABC sizable bragging rights at a time when it’s locked in a battle with NBC over which network can claim to have the top-rated evening newscast.

We’re still waiting to get a sense of the overall audience Tuesday night. With about two dozen television networks covering the election results, the viewership seems bound to eclipse the record audience that tuned in 2000, when 40 million households watched the returns.

UPDATE: The latest ratings just came in, and they show ABC beat its broadcast competitors with an average of 13.14 million viewers in prime time, which was 9% larger than its election night audience in 2004. It marks the first time ABC has won a presidential election night since 1996.

NBC pulled in an average of 12.02 million viewers, down 18% from 2004. CBS had 7.83 million, a drop of 14%. The Fox broadcast network averaged 5.18 million.

-- Matea Gold