Turns out, a lot of people were counting, but nobody was counting in exactly the same way. As we gear up for the second presidential debate tonight, I thought it was worth exploring that, especially because we at FiveThirtyEight were a major outlier: We had the lowest interruption count, by far, of any news organization I could find.
And reporters aren’t alone in our inability to settle on a standard way to count interruptions. After the Sept. 26 debate, Trump’s interruptions of Clinton became news because of the way they reflected both many women’s personal experiences and social science research that has, in general, shown that women get interrupted more frequently than men. But when I spoke with scientists who have done those studies, they told me that they haven’t been able to settle on a definition of “interruption,” either.
“It’s unimaginable how many definitions of interruptions I’ve seen in the [scientific] literature,” said Kristin Anderson, professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown. “These are definitions that have to be operationally defined and submitted to peer review, and you still get a lot.”
It should be no surprise then that journalists — social science JV team that we are — counted interruptions in a variety of ways. Both FiveThirtyEight (lowest count) and Vox (highest count) went into the first presidential debate intending to track the number of times Trump interrupted Clinton, and vice versa, because of what reporters had seen of his style in the primary debates. Time magazine’s Chris Wilson, on the other hand, decided to track interruptions the next morning …