Moving the needle: A comparative analysis of message reception during televised presidential debates
Hughes, Shawn R.
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Presidential debates have been a feature in U.S. presidential elections for over 50 years. Few events draw as much media and voter attention as the debates. Candidates strategize, prepare, and rehearse for the debates, taking valuable time out of the all-important campaign. However, most studies of the debates focus on the written transcripts of the arguments. What is needed is a holistic approach that covers the moment-by-moment audience responses to the debate, the rhetorical strategies of the candidates, the nonverbal behaviors of the candidates, and focus group analysis of responses to “critical incidents” in the 2012 debates. This study provides such a multi faceted approach. Continuous response measures were taken live in 2012 for the Obama Romney debates. These responses were analyzed to determine the “critical incidents” of the debates 1 and 3 – points where the Democratic and Republican viewers differed the most in their reactions. These incidents were then coded for message function, and nonverbal behavior of the candidates. Then they were shown to focus groups to provide insight into the events. This provides a framework for understanding the 2012 debates, and provides a methodology for future examination of televised presidential debates.