Don’t worry, Newt Gingrich. The 1,200 audience members at tonight’s Republican debate in Jacksonville, Florida, will be allowed to cheer, clap and boo.
After the audience was asked to stay silent during Monday’s debate, Gingrich, whose debate performances have seemed to thrive on cheers and jabs to the media, threatened to skip future debates if the audience couldn’t participate.
His extreme reaction is an easy target for comedy. (Comedian Rick Moranis, for example, imagines a debate in which the audience can make noise only when Gingrich has the floor.) But it also highlights an increasingly important fact in this election cycle: Audience reaction matters.
While silence from audience members is the protocol during general election debates, most of the primary debates have encouraged audience interaction. In addition to participation at the debates, viewers are also chiming in online, where social media have provided another platform for candidates and media to elicit and measure reactions from real people. For example, at the Jan. 16 debate Fox News moderators asked questions chosen from Twitter and analyzed viewers’ tweets with the hashtags #dodge or #answer to rank the candidates.
Republican candidates aren’t the only ones vying for audience reaction. CBS News counted about 80 applause breaks in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday, during which his campaign tweeted live updates from @BarackObama and responded to questions using the hashtag #WHchat. Obama will also host a Google + hangout to answer audience questions on Jan. 30, a presidential first.
The New York Times raised the question today of whether audience participation adds to or distracts from the political process. What do you think? Should audiences be encouraged to participate in debates and speeches? Let us know below and join us as we live blog tonight’s show at 8 p.m. ET on our election page.
(Kirsten Salyer is the social media editor of Bloomberg View.)
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