We have all been angry during televised debates when the “other” candidate slips by difficult questions.
To the partisan viewer it looks like they are lying and the moderator is in cahoots with them. They never get called down for failing to answer the question.
Alix Spiegel had a great piece on NPR called: How Politicians Get Away With Dodging The Question that may point in the right direction.
Research by Todd Rogers (homepage) of the Harvard School of Government demonstrates what is call a “pivot,” a point in an answer that starts to answer the question and then switches to something the candidate wanted to say.
It is reported that pivots were used about 70% of the time in one set of presidential debates.
In a similar vein, see: The Art of the Dodge by Peter Saalfield in Harvard Magazine, March-April 2012. (Watch for the bad link to the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Should be Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
Or the original work:
The artful dodger: Answering the wrong question the right way. Rogers, Todd; Norton, Michael I. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol 17(2), Jun 2011, 139-147. doi: 10.1037/a0023439
What happens when speakers try to “dodge” a question they would rather not answer by answering a different question? In 4 studies, we show that listeners can fail to detect dodges when speakers answer similar—but objectively incorrect—questions (the “artful dodge”), a detection failure that goes hand-in-hand with a failure to rate dodgers more negatively. We propose that dodges go undetected because listeners’ attention is not usually directed toward a goal of dodge detection (i.e., Is this person answering the question?) but rather toward a goal of social evaluation (i.e., Do I like this person?). Listeners were not blind to all dodge attempts, however. Dodge detection increased when listeners’ attention was diverted from social goals toward determining the relevance of the speaker’s answers (Study 1), when speakers answered a question egregiously dissimilar to the one asked (Study 2), and when listeners’ attention was directed to the question asked by keeping it visible during speakers’ answers (Study 4). We also examined the interpersonal consequences of dodge attempts: When listeners were guided to detect dodges, they rated speakers more negatively (Study 2), and listeners rated speakers who answered a similar question in a fluent manner more positively than speakers who answered the actual question but disfluently (Study 3). These results add to the literatures on both Gricean conversational norms and goal-directed attention. We discuss the practical implications of our findings in the contexts of interpersonal communication and public debates. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Imagine an instant replay system for debates where pivots points are identified and additional data is mapped in.
Candidates would still try to dodge, but perhaps less successfully.