Week 4 – Norm Violations
In this blog post, I will discuss what I observed from watching all five sets of debates for the first time. As a reminder, in addition to the first Trump/Clinton 2016 debate, I watched 2022 midterm debates from the GA Senate (Warnock vs. Walker), OH Senate (Ryan vs. Vance), PA Senate (Fetterman vs. Oz), and FL Governor (DeSantis vs. Crist) races. While the hard data is from my paper, I can share some of my findings less academically. The big one is that Trump is exhibiting less norm violations than the other candidates. The only strongly negative behavior that all candidates I’m observing seem to be interruptions, but it is more common for candidates to interrupt their opponent to limited extents or engage in crosstalk during heated moments. However, Trump usually interrupted his opponent more frequently. In addition, he more often made major claims without supporting them, made false claims, and challenged public decorum.
One thing I thought I would talk about was the use of specificity, one of the norm-violating behaviors I’m looking for. It’s common for a candidate to make a statement that may not be specific as a listener would like. However, Trump often makes claims lacking in multiple faculties. Consider the first few sentences of his opening statement in his first debate against Clinton: “Thank you, Lester. Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico. They’re going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They’re devaluing their currency, and there’s nobody in our government to fight them. And we have a very good fight. And we have a winning fight. Because they’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing.” This paragraph left me scratching my head, trying to understand the causes of our jobs leaving the country, where they were going, and what the “winning fight” was and why it was winning. A couple of these claims are so generalized it’s hard to understand he value they contribute. As a result, I’ve decided to flag “lack of specificity” as a norm violation, where claims are unspecific enough to an extent where they don’t contribute much. I’m working on developing concrete definitions for this norm violation and others, so that after watching debates for a second time around, I can concretely define what qualifies as a norm violation and what doesn’t.
In my next post, after I’ve watched debates twice, I hope to discuss my findings in a bit more detail. Thanks for reading!