While it is true that sometimes candidates will pack the hall (Romney during the Oakland, MI debate, for instance), we have seen that most debate audiences have been pretty open-minded in this cycle. Indeed, the candidates ability to win applause from the crowd seems to be a strong indication of a good performance, especially in the minds of the conservative elements which tend to decide Republican primary elections.
Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain's rise in the polls might have been predicted by their debates performances which were clearly judged excellent if using the applause in the hall as a barometer.
What we are tracking here is so-called "Big Applause." While there was certainly some subjectivity here, our team looked for moments when the applause that a candidate received was "clearly greater than the tepid or polite applause that others received during the debate." Alternatively, a candidate got a point if the applause for their remark prevented the questioner, themselves, or another candidate from continuing to speak due to the loudness of the applause.
Clearly applause is not everything. Jon Huntsman received just 4 "Big Applause" lines in 12 debates. While this certainly indicates a weaker response from the right of the party, Huntsman's debate strategy has often been to appear the "grown-up" in the room...which probably leads to less rah-rah from the crowd.
Who Has Gotten the Applause in the Hall?
53 (in 17 debates)
38 (in 17 debates)
24 (in 17 debates)
19 (in 13 debates)
17 (in 10 debates)
13 (in 12 debates)
9.5 (in 16 debates)
4 (in 11 debates)