Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 October 2016
The 2016 Republican Party presidential primary debates were unprecedented in the amount of media and public interest they generated. Substantially driven by curiosity about reality television celebrity Donald Trump, the initial debates hosted by FOX News and CNN both reflected and validated interest in his candidacy while proffering attention to a full slate of more traditional presidential contenders in front of boisterous audiences. This study considers these audiences’ response. Whether applause, laughter, booing, or combinations thereof, these group utterances provide a reliable metric by which insights may be derived concerning partisan attitudes towards Trump and the other candidates, as well as the unity of the Republican Party. Findings suggest that the debate setting in concert with the demographics of the in-person audience may well have influenced initial response to the candidates and as a result have subtle yet lingering consequences for the 2016 presidential election.