Exploring the Interplay of Gender and Politeness in Televised Political Debate

The First Trump-Clinton Presidential Debate


  • Samantha Vesty Nottingham Trent University


Gender, Politeness Theories, Political Discourse, Televised Debate, Discourse Analysis


Politeness is often regarded as both a contributing factor to a feminine performance and a fundament in political discourse. Yet, to follow the conventions of political discourse is considered a masculine behaviour. This has significant ramifications for women politicians: to engage with politics is to compromise their perceived femininity, which may damage their popularity amongst voters. This study uses the first Trump-Clinton presidential debate as a case study to explore variations between the use of politeness between male and female politicians. A secondary dataset of responses collected from social media reveals how the linguistic choices of each candidate were perceived by voters. Even though Clinton was found to demonstrate a greater consideration for the face needs of others, online responses to her behaviour show she was still negatively evaluated for conforming to political norms. Despite using politeness to reassert her femininity, Clinton was still deemed to be presenting as masculine based on her engagement with political debate.