How often will women get interrupted in the Democratic primary debates?
Three of the Democratic presidential candidates taking the stage this evening are women. They are all experienced public speakers — but will they face interruptions from the male candidates?
SALT LAKE CITY — On each of the next two nights of the Democratic primary debate, three women will share the stage with seven male candidates.
The debate was split over Wednesday and Thursday nights because of the number of qualifying candidates, with top polling candidates evenly divided over the two groups. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar will debate on the first night, according to NBC News.
Numerous studies have shown that women are often interrupted by men and by other women in all kinds of environments — from the Supreme Court to school board meetings. They are also “often given less credit, or even penalized, for being outspoken,” according to Vox.
That has many people wondering — will the male candidates on stage this week try to speak over the women?
Debate coach Christine Jahnke told The Washington Post that women might have to turn the tables and interrupt a man if they want to get noticed in the crowded debate.
“The moderators probably won’t allow any direct interchange between the candidates. So it may boil down to being willing to interrupt someone while they’re talking,” she said.
The question for the audience (is) — did they interpret that as an attempt of a male candidate to disadvantage a female candidate? – Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania
But if men interrupt women in the debate, they could invite an unwelcome comparison to President Donald Trump.
In 2016, news outlets reported that Trump had a habit of speaking over women, including interrupting Hillary Clinton 51 times in one debate while she interrupted him 17 times, according to PBS.
“The question for the audience (is) — did they interpret that as an attempt of a male candidate to disadvantage a female candidate?” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, told PBS at the time.
While the interruptions clearly didn’t prevent Trump from getting elected, Democrats don't want to use the president's debate tactics, according to Time.
Tali Mendelberg and Christopher Karpowitz, professors at Princeton and Brigham Young University, respectively, conducted a study that found men tend to speak more than women in groups, but "once women made up 60 to 80 percent of a group, they spoke as much as men," according to The New York Times.
With women making up just 30% of the speakers in both debates this week, the odds are in favor of men speaking over them.
However, Warren will be on stage, and she is polling right behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to FiveThirtyEight. As Tim Murphy, a reporter with Mother Jones, pointed out, “her experience as both a witness and interrogator at Capitol Hill hearings offer a glimpse of how she could perform not just against her fellow Democrats but also, if she gets that far, against Trump.”
Even when women reach such a high pinnacle in their profession, they are interrupted by men, not only their colleagues, but also their explicit subordinates. – Tonja Jacobi, a professor at Northwestern University, told the South China Morning Post.
Gabbard and Klobuchar are also unlikely to be steamrolled. Gabbard is a veteran who was deployed in Iraq and Kuwait, according to New York Magazine. She was elected as a representative to the Hawaii state legislature at just 21 years old.
Klobuchar was a prosecutor in Minnesota, known for her tough on crime approach, for which she has been widely criticized but has not apologized, Vox reported.
Of course, Clinton was also a politician with decades of experience and didn’t seem like a likely candidate for repeated interruptions.
“Even when women reach such a high pinnacle in their profession, they are interrupted by men, not only their colleagues, but also their explicit subordinates,” Tonja Jacobi, a professor at Northwestern University, told the South China Morning Post.
And while the female Democratic candidates can try to do their own share of interrupting, it is usually perceived negatively, according to Forbes author and women's career coach Kathy Caprino.
However, as experts explained to the South China Morning Post, sometimes the backlash is worth it, and there are things women can do to offset it. For example, they can jump in, speak quickly, and if someone tries to wrest attention from them, ask to be allowed to finish.
Gabbard and Klobuchar will both need to make the most of the first debate, as both are polling at roughly 1%. With so many candidates on the stage, they likely won’t have much time to make their points. Any interruptions could cut into valuable opportunities to make their voices and views known to the American people.