By Chris Wilson
October 5, 2016

There were several moments during Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate when all three participants–Republican Mike Pence, Democrat Tim Kaine and moderator Elaine Quijano–were talking at the same time in attempt to wrest control of the conversation.

Counting interruptions is the break-out spectator sport of 2016 debate coverage, and the scores are all over the place. ABC’s Ryan Struyk counted 70 times when Kaine interrupted Pence, compared to 40 times that Pence interrupted Kaine. The site FiveThirtyEight came up with slightly higher figures for both.

It is probably safe to say that most viewers came away with the impression that Kaine was more apt to butt in on his opponent than the other way around. Curiously, our analysis, which relies on the Congressional Quarterly transcript of the debate, actually came up with a higher count for Pence than Kaine, including times that either candidate interrupted the moderator:

The reason for the discrepancy is that, rather than tally interruptions manually, which is far more art than science when neither candidate will cede the floor, this method uses a neutral third-party’s interpretation, looking for instances in the transcript where a line ends in an ellipsis, indicating that the next speaker cut in. The transcript uses the phrase “CROSSTALK” when things get too chaotic. In many cases, it’s possible that those counting by hand are attributing crosstalk interruptions to Kaine. And to be fair to Pence, many of his interruptions are really counter-interruptions, in which he is talking past Kaine’s interjections.


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