French Politics

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 178–205 | Cite as

Televised presidential debates: Parallel lessons from the 2012 American and French elections

  • Philippe J Maarek
Original Article


This article compares the 2012 French and American ‘decisive’ television debate(s) before Election Day. On three major points, the American and French future winners unknowingly adopted very similar debating behavior for the debates. First, both winners, Barack Obama and François Hollande, judiciously worked on their non-verbal communication, thus helping to subtly convey a sense of superiority over their rival during the debates. Second, both also mastered rhetorical skills much better than their opponents. Finally, both knew to start the debates in a very composed way, being aware of the importance of first impressions to the eye of the viewers. The article also notices the strong correlation in both countries between the televised debate and the election outcome. This probably means that the debate is at least a good way to reveal the ‘strength’ of the future winner in relation to his or her opponent. Finally, the article hints, again by comparing both countries, that incumbent leaders might initially have difficulties in the debates against their usually aggressive challengers.


‘decisive’ televised debates Obama Sarkozy non-verbal communication incumbency rhetorical skills 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philippe J Maarek
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.University Paris East – UPECParisFrance
  2. 2.CNRS Institute of Communication ScienceParisFrance
  3. 3.Center for Comparative Studies in Political and Public Communication

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