POLITICS
02/14/2016 12:02 am ET Updated Feb 14, 2016

Here's Why The Audience Was So Raucous At Saturday's Republican Debate

They were saying "boo," not "Cruz."

The audience at Saturday's CBS News Republican presidential debate was more boisterous than usual -- booing, clapping and generally making its feelings known during several exchanges between candidates on stage in Greenville, South Carolina.

At various points, attendees seemed to favor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and to be very much against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and real estate mogul Donald Trump -- the two candidates currently leading the race.

The way the Republican National Committee distributed the tickets may have been behind the heightened reactions.

According to RNC spokesman Sean Spicer, 600 tickets -- of the available 1,600 seats in the Peace Center -- were reserved for the candidates' supporters and friends. That number is more generous than in previous debates. The RNC got 367 tickets, and 550 seats went to state GOP and local officials.

Moreover, local party officials apparently decided to forgo a lottery system in favor of giving loyal supporters tickets due to the venue size, according to Chad Groover, chairman of the Greenville County Republican party.

"You'll have a good mix of people who are donors, people who are donors and workers, and people who are just workers," Groover told local news station WYFF.

Depending on its reaction, a debate audience can have a powerful effect on how both at-home viewers and the media perceive candidate performance. Jeers against candidates are especially likely to draw headlines -- such as the boos Trump and Cruz received Saturday night. 

Campaigns are cognizant of the role an audience can play, and therefore engage in their own stagecraft by making sure supporters applaud their candidate -- or boo a rival -- when appropriate.

Trump complained during the last Republican debate that the audience was stacked against him with "donors and special interests." 

"You know who has the tickets? I'm talking to the television audience. Donors, special interests, the people that are putting up the money," Trump said in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The RNC, however, maintained that only 75 of the 1,000 audience members were donors. 

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