Who is Getting Into These Debates?

Written by Noah Kristula-Green on Wednesday September 14, 2011

One unexpected story that has emerged from the two most recent GOP debates has been the behavior of the audience. They cheered when Rick Perry's record on executions was announced and Ron Paul got shouts of support when he was asked if a person who couldn't afford healthcare should be left to die.

While these moments are interesting cultural Rorschach tests, it might be worth taking a step back to consider who is in the audience at these debates, and whether they are really representative of the Republican Party.

FrumForum Contacted Melissa Giller of the Ronald Reagan Foundation to ask about the debate held at the Reagan Library. She said that there were 500 tickets for that debate. The tickets were divided among the eight GOP candidates, MSNBC, Politico, Telemundo, and the Reagan Foundation.

Giller couldn't speak to how each campaign decided how their tickets would get used, and she did not know off-hand how many tickets each campaign got, though she said that MSNBC and Politico each got around 20 tickets and that the Reagan Foundation used its tickets for Nancy Reagan, a few of her friends, members of the Boards of Trustees, and for the foundation's donors.

So if every other campaign had between 20 to 40 tickets, then the question is: who ultimately made use of them?

If campaigns are bringing their own activist partisans then that might explain the audience reaction better. Perhaps Perry was just being cheered on by his own supporters. It's very likely that every applause that Ron Paul received came from people that he bussed in.

Its hard to know exactly what the composition of the audience of these debates is, and we should keep this mind before assuming the audience is a representative sample of the GOP primary electorate.