Debates are a tricky thing to judge. Everyone has an opinion and people view the candidates' performances through a political lense. Pro-war viewers likely identify with Rick Santorum or Tim Pawlenty. Those who think we need to pull out of overseas wars ASAP probably view those candidates and their debate performances negatively.
But there are some rough metrics that can help make some sense of who won the debate. One way is to count the number of times a candidate was applauded. Now, this, admittedly, is a somewhat flawed metric because some candidates have followings more ethusiastic (though smaller) than others, but it at least gives us an indication of whose points struck a note with the audience. The moderators also play a large role in determining who does well using this metric. Those candidates who get asked less questions have less opportunity to get applauded.
At the last GOP debate, Ron Paul received the most applause of all the candidates. Last night, once again, the winner was Ron Paul, judging by applause. (I counted any time I could hear applause during a candidates' statements.)
Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty jumped to an early lead with a back-and-forth that earned each applause on several occasions. But Paul consistently scored with the audience throughout the night.
Here are the final tallies:
Ron Paul was applauded 15 times; Michele Bachmann was applauded 12 times; Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain each brought the crowd to cheers on 11 occasions; Mitt Romney was cheered 10 times; and Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty were applauded nine times. Jon Huntsman received the least applause, with the crowd cheering him seven times.
Ultimately, the best way to judge who won a debate is to see who gets the biggest jump in the polls afterwards. But this much is indisputable: Ron Paul can fire up a crowd.