Debate winner: Interruptions

October 5, 2012

No, it wasn't your imagination. And it wasn't moderator Jim Lehrer’s fault either.

The two presidential candidates in Wednesday night’s debate were significantly more aggressive and interrupting than in the recent past, according to a study released Friday by George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs.

President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cut off Lehrer 30 times during the 90-minute debate -- three times as often as Obama and his then-rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did in their first debate in 2008.

Of the two, Romney did it the most often, the center’s research director Dan Amundson said in an interview.

Romney interrupted Lehrer 13 times; Obama did it seven. And in 10 instances, Amundson said, everyone seemed to be talking at once.

The center also found that Lehrer was actually a bit tougher on the candidates than he was in 2008.

It divided his questions into two categories: Those which simply asked for information, and those which went beyond that, following up to probe and push them to explain themselves.

Four years ago, about 21 percent of Lehrer’s questions were in that latter category of “challenge” questions; this year, 25 percent were.

“Lehrer was just as aggressive in his questions as he was four years ago, but the candidates were less willing [to] let him ask them,” CMPA president S. Robert Lichter said in a news release announcing the results of the study.

Karen Tumulty is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where she received the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
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