You Call It "Pivot," and We Call It "Bridge"
NPR ran an interesting story this morning, in advance of tonight's first presidential debate, about a technique called "the pivot." Political debate consultant Brett O'Donnell defines a pivot as "a way of taking a question that might be on a specific subject, and moving to answer it on your own terms." When we media train executives for interviews, we teach them a technique called "bridging," which helps the speaker "bridge" from an off-topic or difficult question back to their key messages or safer territory. A bridge is not a dodge, but is intended to keep the discussion on topic and productive. A pivot sounds a bit more like a dodge, at least in my humble opinion as a communications consultant - albeit one who hates politics.
The most fascinating part of this discussion of pivots describes the analysis of a Bush/Kerry presidential debate by Todd Rogers, a behavioral psychologist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Rogers analyzed when the audience detected a pivot and whether it made them react negatively to the speaker. He discovered that "people are capable of detecting dodges — but only if they're egregious. They don't seem capable of detecting subtle evasions."
Some of this, he believes, is that people have limited attention or are multi-tasking and often don't even remember the questions - and therefore don't notice the deliberate pivot. But this would change if there was a more highly charged question, such as about terrorism, and the candidate deliberately pivoted to a health care response. The listeners would spot this and view the pivoting speaker negatively. This, Rogers believes, is why politicians can get away with dodging questions as much as 70 percent of the time.
Here's your challenge for tonight's first presidential debate: How many pivots can you spot and how did they make you feel about the pivoting candidate? Inquiring BeyondtheHype bloggers want to hear from you.