By the time the debate was over, Trump had interrupted Clinton 51 times — whereas Clinton had interrupted Trump just 17 times.
Counting the interruptions of both candidates by moderator Lester Holt, Clinton was interrupted a total of 70 times, and Trump was interrupted 47 times.
Some of Trump’s interruptions of Clinton featured outright lies, like insisting that he never said climate change was a Chinese conspiracy, or denying that he ever said some of the offensive things about women that Clinton called him out on saying.
Some of his interruptions were petulant asides; at one point he even threw in a one-word, schoolboy-like “Not.”
Other interruptions turned into loud, insistent filibusters, with Trump barreling over Clinton until she finally smiled and relented to let him keep talking — or until Holt interjected to insist that Trump give Clinton her allotted two minutes to talk.
It was a pretty stunning display, even for Trump.
There is no working woman in America who doesn't recognize the pattern of interruption that Trump is using against Clinton. #debates— Laila Lalami (@LailaLalami) September 27, 2016
When Hillary Clinton was running for Senate in 2000, her opponent Rick Lazio infamously left his podium and approached Clinton during a debate. The move made him look aggressive and domineering against his female opponent. It basically doomed his campaign, and his political career.
Many commentators, and even Clinton’s own campaign staff, thought Trump might learn something from Lazio’s experience. It seemed obvious that if Trump used the same domineering, bullying shtick against Clinton that he had used against some of his male opponents in the Republican primary, it could very easily backfire on him. Trump’s snarky, sexist comments about Carly Fiorina when she was the lone Republican woman on the debate stage certainly didn’t do him any favors at the time.
But if Trump was making any conscious effort to moderate himself, it didn’t show. He arguably out-Lazioed Lazio with his level of bluster and aggression, and the debate figures into the long list of obviously sexist words and deeds that Trump has to his name.
Women typically get interrupted more often than men
Trump’s display during Monday’s debate wasn’t exactly subtle. But interruptions can also be one of the subtler ways bias against women manifests itself.
NBC anchor Matt Lauer was recently criticized for interrupting Clinton much more often than Trump during the network’s Commander-in-Chief Forum earlier this month. There was sexism in these interruptions, critics said, because they were disproportionate: Lauer came off as being much more critical of Clinton, even as Trump made unchecked statements about his earlier support for the war in Iraq.
In a seminal 1975 study, men were responsible for all but two of the 48 interruptions that University of California Santa Barbara sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West recorded while observing 31 mixed-gender conversations in various public places. Recently, tech startup CEO and linguist Kieran Snyder designed an experiment that found men in tech industry meetings interrupted twice as often as women did, and that men were three times as likely to interrupt women as they were to interrupt other men. When women did interrupt, they interrupted other women 87 percent of the time.
The scope of the disparity varies from study to study, but the general pattern remains the same: Men are more likely to interrupt other people in general, and they interrupt women more often than they interrupt other men. And women, when they make interruptions, are also much more likely to interrupt other women than they are to interrupt men.
This pattern harms women in many ways, particularly when it comes to career advancement. For most women in the workplace, the phenomenon is exhaustingly familiar: A woman offers an idea in a meeting, but nobody notices or acknowledges it until a man later says the same thing. When women are interrupted more often, they are heard less. And sometimes they are interrupted more often because they are already heard less.
It’s true that interruptions are a complicated subject in sociolinguistics. Gender isn’t the only factor that determines patterns of interruption; an individual’s social status or cultural upbringing also matters a lot.
Some interruptions are a sign of dominance, or a way to control the direction of a conversation — but other times, people interrupt as a sign of intimacy or encouragement. You’re more likely to interrupt your best friend than your boss, for instance, and some “interruptions” are more like interjections, facilitating the other person’s point rather than hijacking their conversational space.
But in the context of a debate like this, interruptions are rarely pro-social. Usually the interrupter is seeking attention, or admonishing the interruptee, or both.
It’s true that in Monday night’s debate, Lester Holt interrupted Trump about twice as often as he interrupted Clinton. That probably had something to do with Trump’s aggression and disregard for debate rules, as well as the need to do a bit of on-air fact-checking.
Statistically speaking, though, being a woman makes Clinton more likely to be on the receiving end of these kinds of interruptions — and, on top of that, more likely to be criticized for the way she responds to them.