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Communication Studies Professor Gives Debate Insight

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 3:53pm

If you were among one of the 84 million viewers who watched the debate on Monday night, you may have had your own take on who "won" the debate. The debate was the most-watched Presidential debate in history and while many commentators and political science experts had their own assessment of the debate, one of Franklin College's reknowned communication studies experts had a different kind of assessment.

Edward Panetta, who has been the director of the Georgia Debate Union for 27 years. From his perspective, there was much to be learned by observing how the two orators behaved and spoke at the debate. His expert views were featured in the AJC:

Performance of Hillary Clinton:

Throughout the debate, Hillary Clinton exhibited a forceful non-verbal presence. She was disciplined and did not regularly interrupt Donald Trump — thus accenting the gendered nature of Donald Trump’s rhetorical style. She was quite effective in telling stories about average citizens that served to humanize her for the audience.

She effectively spoke to younger voters and African-Americans in the debate when addressing climate change, student loans, the birther issue and stop-and-frisk policy. Substantively, she delivered better answers than Donald Trump on a full range of issues in the last hour of the debate. For example, when pressed, she was far stronger than Trump in explaining the value of the Iranian nuclear agreement.

Performance of Donald Trump:

Donald Trump’s insistence on regularly interrupting Hillary Clinton will not play well with voters with gender concerns. He struggled with controlling his visual presence during the debate. These elements of his performance feed the Clinton campaign’s narrative that he is temperamentally unsuited to be president.

He started the debate by effectively targeting the voters in the Rust Belt with references to voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Additionally, he was quick to push the need for a more effective trade policy and attacked life-long politicians.

While he kept up the attack on life-long politicians he lost focus on policy as the debate moved along.  In place of a policy discussion he found himself drawn into a number of discussions that have little to do with his core message of improving trade and immigration policy.

Viewers who tuned in for the first half hour probably left the debate with a positive impression of Donald Trump.  Viewers who watched the full debate were left with the impression of a debater who was not able to sustain a set of coherent and full messages on issues ranging from gender to nuclear policy to race relations.

Assessing the outcome:

While Donald Trump was strong in the first 20 minutes of the debate he faltered badly as the debate progressed.

Great to see the expert views of our Franklin faculty being shared with a wider audience on such an important night. Kudos to Panetta for offering his communications expertise on this subject. 

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