Something that seems to be occurring this election year, and maybe unlike any other, is the audience participation in the recent GOP debates. Now, this is not something I am necessarily knowledgeable of, but that is the point of this particular post. Figuring out why this may happen, if there has ever been another time in history where audiences have been so outspoken. That being said, if you actually read this, please express your thoughts and opinions as well.
So let’s start with the history of presidential debates.
These debates were created for television. The Republican and Democratic nominees did not even debate until 1960 with Nixon and Kennedy. The next debate did not occur until ’76 with Carter and Ford. When spectators started attending the debates, it was a “go sit, and keep your mouth closed” kind of deal, on the respectable side.
Even in 1984, it was expected that the audience would be reserved. But, in ’84, when a little applause occurred the moderator, Sander Vanocur, quickly silenced them. He said, “I beseech you’ try to hold your applause, please.” Vanocur also commented that that kind of emotion is more appropriate for athletic events, and not in political debates.
By 2003, voter questions were submitted over the internet for the pre-primary debates. By 2008, they introduced Youtube questions, and this year, Twitter. These new tactics are clearly encouraging viewers involvement, which in turn encourages audience participation, naturally. It seems that the more spectator participation is encouraged the more “brawl-like” feel these debates have to them. It takes away from the issues at hand, and turns it into something that media eats up. Obviously that is not the point of a debate.
In case you’ve missed them, this year there have been three particular instances, where the audience participation is truly nothing less than inappropriate.
The first of these occurred, during the first GOP debate in California. Rick Perry was asked about the amount of executions in the state of Texas. Whenever it was pointed out that Perry has overseen 234 executions the audience cheered. They cheered over the deaths of others.
During the debate held in Tampa, FL, Ron Paul was asked by the moderator about healthcare and insurance policies. After his response the moderator asked “Are you saying that society should let him die?” And a few members of the audience cheered and yelled, “Yeah!”
But the most talked about outburst occurred during the debate on September 22nd in Florida. A youtube question came from a gay soldier in Iraq asking if the candidates planned to circumvent the end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Then a handful of spectators booed the soldier.
Even in the debate that took place last week on the 11th, there was an outburst from a spectator. Unfortunately, it was unintelligible, but clearly something to take note of.
Now, of course, these are controversial issues in themselves. But as a whole, the participation is also one to argue about. Some people like the audience participation, others do not. I am personally not a fan. I’ve read, and agree, that these outbursts are quite reminiscent to the guillotine days during the French Revolution. A little barbaric for my taste.
I found a website that specifically talks about the psychology behind these newfangled outbursts, that I find quite interesting. Please take a look.