Could audience laughter in Presidential primary debates be an important factor to consider when predicting outcomes?
In a recently published paper, Patrick Stewart and honors students Austin Eubanks and Jason Miller of the University of Arkansas have examined audience responses to GOP primary debates. They focused upon a triad of audience behaviours – laughter, applause and booing.
With the election only days away and Trump and Clinton neck and neck, this research could not have been published at a more opportune time.
Mr. Trump has a penchant for eliciting laughter in the crowd. In fact, he blew the other Republican Party contenders out of the water in terms of the amount of time that he had the audience laughing during the debates under examination. His nearest contender in the laughter stakes was Jeb Bush, who elicited almost 21 seconds of laughter, whilst Donald Trump managed to have the crowds laughing for almost 60 seconds. The question is, just how much of a role did this audience laughter play in his successful nomination within the GOP? In contrast to Trump, John Kasich only managed to garner 1.5 seconds of laughter. He earned 154 delegates and won only one contest, his home state of Ohio.
We would all like to think that the American President will not be elected on the basis of how much they make the population laugh, but on basis of their political policies. However, it would be foolish to underestimate the role which popularity plays and how important laughter is in achieving such popularity.
Interestingly, in an interview with the University of Arkansas news, researcher Austin Eubanks suggested that “the populist aspect of this race will take a larger role in the future”. In response to a question on the importance of showmanship in the elections, lead researcher Patrick Stewart felt that ‘Audience response is the most powerful tool for determining voters’ mindset’ and while social media has played a massive role in this election, “With laughter, it’s reliable signaling because you have to feel it, and that response binds the audience together. I’m interested in seeing if laughter changes people’s minds.”
Read the full paper at the link below:
Stewart, P.A., Eubanks, A.D. and Miller, J. (2016) ‘“Please Clap”: Applause, Laughter, and Booing during the 2016 GOP Presidential Primary Debates’, PS: Political Science & Politics, 49(4), pp. 696–700. doi: 10.1017/S1049096516001451.