Designing the debate turns: microanalysis of the 2008 U.S. presidential debates
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This thesis examines interactional dimensions of the 2008 U.S. presidential debates based on the conversation analytic concepts of sequence organization and turn management. Drawing on the video recordings of the three 2008 presidential debates, I investigate features of turn design and interactional strategies that candidates employ during the debates and compare stylistic differences between John McCain and Barack Obama. I first examine how candidates design their first-turn responses to the moderator’s question in terms of placement of two different actions, answer and attack. Secondly, I focus on design of the second-turn responses and examine how candidates show responsiveness to both the moderator’s question and the opponent’s prior turn by incorporating multiple actions (e.g., attack, defense, and answer) in their second turns. I also examine direct exchanges between McCain and Obama, particularly concerning their strategic use of the record and their interactional practices in claiming turns and managing overlapping talk in confrontation sequences. My analysis shows that some stylistic differences exist between McCain’s and Obama’s turns. I provide detailed description of how Obama makes a systematic transition from answer to attack in his first-turn responses, which is distinguished from McCain’s first turns in which attacks are inserted in his answer as relevant topics are brought up. My analysis of the second-turn responses shows that McCain frequently produces an attack at turn beginning or responds to an attack with a reciprocal attack before producing a defense, while Obama tends to produce a defense first and then move to an attack. Lastly, I discuss how both Obama and McCain manage their turns and use turn-taking techniques to avoid direct references to their own record and shift the focus of the talk to the opponent’s stance on a related issue.