Everyone who was in Wells Fargo Arena for the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Dinner last night can agree – it was loud.
But how loud was it?
In an effort to measure the degree of cheers and jeers of the night, I spent five hours looking at a decibel meter to find out who had the loudest reception of the evening. The result was unexpected, nuanced, and filled with lessons that could be useful to campaigns and candidates in the future.
Here are three takeaways from the applause-o-meter experiment:
The Earlier, The Louder
At 6:30 PM, Wells Fargo Arena was filled with 13,000 Democratic activists, politicians, staffers and voters. Needless to say, the crowd was fired up to hear from the 13 Democratic presidential candidates to take the stage throughout the evening.
During the opening speeches from Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, the noise level in the crowd was comparable to the sound of a subway train (100-105dB). As the evening wore on, the noise dwindled down as did the crowd.
For example, when State Auditor Rob Sand was introduced at the head of the program, his cheers hit an astounding 106dB. When Mr. Sand was introduced roughly two hours into the program, the cheers only reached 96dB, about the sound of a power mower.
It’s certainly not the case that the popular State Auditor lost supporters in that two-hour span, but that there were simply fewer people there to cheer him on at that point in time.
This scenario affected the readings of every candidate in the latter half of the program. With the exception of Senators Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, most candidates struggled to rise above the sound of a busy restaurant, while candidates speaking in the first half of the program stayed steady in the lawnmower-subway range.
Noisemakers Don’t Actually Make That Much Noise
In possibly the most shocking revelation of this experiment, it turns out that the noise-making devices that are often used by campaign supporters don’t technically make all that much noise. While this may be hard to believe, it makes a bit of sense upon further examination.
The most popular noise-making device in this arena was the thunderstick. The thunderstick undeniably produces a constant level of sound, but it is more of a base-level rumble than a roaring ovation.
Candidates such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg benefitted from this rumble when loud vocal cheers were placed on top, creating a well-rounded and considerable level of sound. Of course, the Mayor also benefitted from speaking to a full arena. At its loudest, the crowd reached 108dB during his speech – the highest of the night.
While Senator Elizabeth Warren’s supporters also made use of the thundersticks, there was not as much vocal noise to bring up the overall sound level. The energy in the Warren camp was undeniable, but the sound only reached 100dB because of this seemingly unknown variable. Senator Harris’ overall sound level was arguably impacted in the same way.
But why doesn’t raucous thunderstick beating produce more sound? Well, this is where it gets a bit technical. The sound that these devices make is at a low frequency, creating that base-level rumble. A higher frequency sound, such as cheers and claps, registers higher when measured in decibels. When combined, it’s quite a force to be reckoned with.
When In Doubt, Give A Shoutout
For the lower-polling candidates with fewer supporters in the arena and those who were scheduled in the second half of the program, another tactic was used to garner applause from the crowd. Tom Steyer, Secretary Julián Castro, and former Congressman John Delaney garnered crowd support from deploying some classic Iowa lines.
Congressman Delaney touted his visits to all 99 counties in the state (78dB), Secretary Castro gave a general shoutout to the Iowa Democratic Party (90 dB), and Mr. Steyer pointed out that the event would likely be the largest gathering of Democrats until the 2020 Democratic Nominating Convention in Milwaukee (96 dB).
Simply put, you can’t go wrong with playing to the home team.
Keeping these many variables in mind, I present to you the decibel count of the 2019 IDP Liberty and Justice Celebration. Candidates are listed in order of appearance with their highest level of applause, excluding their musical walk-ons and walk-offs:
Mayor Pete Buttigieg – 108dB
Vice President Joe Biden – 105dB
Andrew Yang – 101dB
Senator Elizabeth Warren – 99dB
Senator Kamala Harris – 96dB
Tom Steyer – 96 dB
Senator Bernie Sanders – 88dB
Senator Michael Bennet – 85dB
Secretary Julián Castro – 90dB
Senator Amy Klobuchar – 91dB
Senator Cory Booker – 90dB
Congressman John Delaney – 78dB
Governor Steve Bullock – 85dB
Congressman Beto O’Rourke (Honorable Mention by Troy Price) – 105dB
by Lauren Johnson