About 10m fewer people watched the final presidential debate on Thursday night than the first one a month ago amid signs there are not that many voters up for grabs with just over a week until the election.

Nearly 63m people tuned into the debate, according to Nielsen, the television ratings provider — a 14 per cent drop compared with the first event and 13 per cent below the final debate of the 2016 campaign.

The figures mean that President Donald Trump’s performance on Thursday, in which he took a calmer tone than in the first debate, could have less of an effect on the race than his earlier encounter with Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger.

The US president, who is trailing in the polls, was widely criticised following last month’s event, during which he frequently interrupted his opponent and the moderator, refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election, and failed to condemn white supremacists.

In contrast, members of Mr Trump’s party welcomed his “helpful” performance on Thursday night, when he listened to Mr Biden and even complimented the moderator Kristen Welker despite having attacked her earlier in the day for allegedly being biased.

The viewing figures contrast with those of the final debate in 2016, when nearly 72m people tuned in to watch Mr Trump spar with Hillary Clinton, and when a far greater proportion of voters had yet to make up their minds.

The drop on Thursday night came in part because of a scheduling conflict with a high-profile American football match between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the figures also underline poll numbers suggesting fewer people are undecided at this point in the campaign than at the same stage in 2016.

Analysis by the website fivethirtyeight.com showed about 13 per cent of voters still had not made up their minds by election day in 2016, and that those people voted two-to-one in favour of Mr Trump in many swing states.

Line chart showing how Trump and Biden are doing in the US national polls

This time, only about 5 per cent of people say they have not yet made up their minds, according to polls, suggesting Mr Biden’s substantial lead is more secure than the one Mrs Clinton held.

There has also been a surge of early voting, with almost 53m Americans having already cast their ballot either by mail or in-person, according to the US Elections Project.

In Texas, almost 6.4m voters have cast their ballots, equivalent to more than 70 per cent of the total number of votes cast in 2016.

Swamp notes

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