Gender-focused advertising damages Trump — but fails to help Clinton

Hillary Clinton listening to remarks during a campaign event at a restaurant in Indianapolis, Ind., on Sunday.

Apparently, “playing the woman card” doesn’t help Hillary Clinton nearly as much as Donald Trump playing-the-playing-the-woman-card hurts Donald Trump.

I infer this from a piece in Monday’s New York Times Upshot blog, where political scientists often share their findings with us laypersons (or does one mean laypeople?).

Lynn Vavreck, a UCLA political scientist and frequent contributor, shares some focus-group research on two ads. The first ad shows a variety of women reading aloud from among the degrading things Trump has said about women. The ad very successfully drove up Trump’s negatives. Members of the group who had seen the ad were 10 percentage points higher in their negative feelings toward Trump compared with a control group that had seen a generic ad for an insurance company.

Vavreck’s research team also showed an ad with several actresses who have played positive female characters talking about the positive qualities of those characters. Viewers were very happy with the first half of the ad, and were turning dials to show that they were liking what they were saying. At the mid-point, the ad turns into an effort to link Clinton with the positive female role models the actresses have been portraying. “The real world has Hillary Clinton,” the actresses say. Vavreck writes about a dramatic change in the audience’s reaction:

“At that moment, roughly half the people watching indicated they disliked what they were hearing. Hardly anyone said they liked it.”

Curiously, when they checked the focus-group members’ ratings before and after the ad, the Vavreck team found that while Clinton’s unfavorable ratings were 10 points lower, her favorable ratings were only one point higher. (I’m presuming this means that the decline in Clinton’s unfavorables reflected people switching from unfavorable to the neutral column, but not crossing into the favorable column.)

Fewer than half of the people who saw the ad rated it as “truthful,” Vavreck writes. That can only mean that they felt the description of Clinton as the real-life embodiment of the favorable characteristics of the actresses’ fictional characters didn’t ring true.

Vavreck concludes that “it’s far easier to drive down support for Mr. Trump by highlighting the derogatory things he has said about women than it is to drive up support for Mrs. Clinton by talking about her as a strong woman.”

The first ad, portraying Trump’s sexist remarks, was aired by a SuperPAC called Our Principles. You can view the ad here.

The second ad, the one that starts with the actresses and turns into a testimonial to Clinton’s qualities, is by the Clinton campaign. You can view it here.

Or both ads are embedded in the Vavreck post on Upshot. You can read and view that post here.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/02/2016 - 05:15 pm.

    There are problems with

    this sort of ‘research’.
    First of all, how big were the focus group samples?
    Jumped to the link to her article — it’s about 1000 total individuals, so assuming good sampling techniques (this is not a peer reviewed publication) the sample is large enough.
    The second problem is that details of wording can make a big difference in people’s responses.
    Since video’s were provided, but not scripts, it’s hard to evaluate.
    So, interesting, but hardly conclusive.

  2. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/02/2016 - 05:37 pm.

    Focus groups do not provide reliable data

    Drawing broad conclusions for a population from a focus group is never, ever appropriate.

    It is reasonable to think that women are going to get upset if they hear Trump’s many negative statements about women, but how many people follow the media that closely – not many. If the focus groups were to suggest Trump’s negative statements were something the women were already aware of and talking with friends about, that might be a different matter.

    On the other side, it seems likely that many men and women have heard Clinton described as a liar, although are they actually able to give any illustrations of her dishonesty? Obviously, also they may doing the “guilt by association” thing, thinking about how they would have reacted being married to Bill Clinton. Do women deserve blame when their husbands philander?

    Fact is, the Clintons stayed married and Donald Trump, who certainly is as much of a womanizer as Bill Clinton, is on his third wife.

    If you really want to make sound judgments using research, rather than looking for ways to elevate Trump (by being “fair” to him), you will understand why so the recent polls (based on sound samples) suggest that he is of all the remaining candidates the least suited to be President. Why people still vote for him? He pretends to be as mad as they are.

    • Submitted by Clete Erickson on 05/03/2016 - 03:52 pm.

      Want some examples of

      Here are a few of Secretary Clinton’s half truths and falsehoods here are a few taken from Politifact.Com

      Every candidate has made statement like these but when you say nobody wants to cite them that is not accurate. There is plenty of documented examples of what Secretary Clinton has said and the actual truth is.

      “We now have more jobs in solar than we do in oil.”
      “Every piece of legislation, just about, that I ever introduced (in the U.S. Senate) had a Republican co-sponsor.”
      “We now have driven (health care) costs down to the lowest they’ve been in 50 years.”
      “The gun industry is “the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability.”
      “I actually started criticizing the war in Iraq before (Obama) did.”
      “It’s just outrageous that under President Bush, the National Institutes of Health have been basically decreased in funding.”
      “eMail scandal”

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/02/2016 - 06:22 pm.

    Hillary has her problems,

    but not as many problems as Trump has. Hillary has more applicable experience than Trump does. I don’t want someone like Trump that has three answers in the same sentence as he makes it up as he goes. The GOP establishment has spent several months deriding Trumps qualifications and demeanor. Now comes the fun part. How does the GOP pivot to Trump, who is likely their nominee, and convince the voters Trump is a viable, worthy candidate that they should vote for? It is the voters who will have to decided if they want to jump the wide chasm that separates their common sense from Trumps ridiculousness. It is unlikely a decimated party will find enough voters to make the jump. I suspect many of them think too highly of the country to put the country through more foolishness than it already has been through. I feel another GOP post election autopsy is coming as the GOP tries to figure out what went wrong. They should ask the voters what is wrong with the party not those who have participated in ruining the party.

    • Submitted by Roy Everson on 05/03/2016 - 02:36 am.

      The truth is out there

      They might try to figure out what’s wrong with their party, that’s easy — it’s now the defacto White Men’s Party. But they may also want to learn why so many voters can be easily led astray from shared American democratic values to a political sewer clearly outside what used to be considered mainstream.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 05/02/2016 - 08:53 pm.

    With Hillary and Trump you have 2 candidates that poll with very high unfavorables among voters. Trump has many on the left screaming mad with his speech and Hillary had well over 1/2 the people in a poll describe her with some form of the word dishonest. Should be am interesting fall.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/03/2016 - 11:37 am.


      How many people describe Trump “with some form of the word dishonest”?

      Trump has many who are not on the “screaming left” mad about a lot of things he says. Or is accusing Senator Cruz’s father of being in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald something only screaming leftists would find unacceptable?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 05/03/2016 - 12:24 pm.

        Very few RB

        The most common words used for Trump were arrogant or blow hard. His honesty numbers out did his dishonest numbers by a large margin. Hillary has just opposite problem, dishonest out did honest by a huge amount.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/03/2016 - 01:47 pm.

          Well, then

          What political party wouldn’t rather have an arrogant blowhard as its nominee than one who gets the generic politician’s description as “dishonest?”

          Clinton was viewed “very” or “somewhat” unfavorably by 55% of recent poll respondents. Donald has an overall unfavorable rating of 69% (about 55% gave him a “very unfavorable” rating).

          I guess it’s not just screaming leftists.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 05/03/2016 - 05:56 pm.

            No, you’re right about this.

            Even so, that particular 14 point margin of lesser dislike is not positive.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/04/2016 - 02:21 pm.

              So this will be an election

              for the lesser of evils.
              Whether one votes for people or against people, a vote is still a vote,
              and ~15% more voters will vote against Trump than against Clinton.
              how many people voted against Nixon rather than for Kennedy?

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/03/2016 - 10:35 am.


    What I wonder and what I have been asking people is “Why is Hillary so disliked?” “Why are her unfavorables so high?” “In the context of this article, why do people turn so negative when the subject of Hillary comes up?”

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/03/2016 - 11:05 am.

      Don’t discount

      the cumulative effect of negative propaganda over the last 22 years.
      And as Hillary admits, she is not a natural politician; she doesn’t have Bill’s ability to counter negativity with charm. Her earnest attempts to give complex answers to simple questions sometimes simply dig her deeper.
      Trump does much better by giving simple answers to complex questions: that’s what many people want to hear.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/03/2016 - 12:39 pm.

    the cumulative effect of negative propaganda over the last 22 years.

    This is what many Clinton supporters will tell you and maybe it’s true, but it is also a general, one size all fits defense that doesn’t help us identify specific areas in which Hillary can improve.

    “And as Hillary admits, she is not a natural politician; she doesn’t have Bill’s ability to counter negativity with charm. ”

    If she isn’t a natural, is this something she can work to improve? If the job is politics, it’s ok not to be a natural politician, but it is simply unacceptable not to be a good politician. As for negativity, she has been faced with that for more than two decades at it. Why isn’t she better at it?

    ” Her earnest attempts to give complex answers to simple questions sometimes simply dig her deeper.”

    This is among her biggest and most frustrating issues, her seeming inability to express complex ideas clearly. It’s one she has had decades to master and she hasn’t done it yet. It’s why so many Democrats long for Elizabeth Warren from whom Hillary has much to learn if only sh would try.

    “Trump does much better by giving simple answers to complex questions: that’s what many people want to hear.”

    Maybe Hillary should use twitter more. Limiting thoughts to 140 characters is good practice for any politician, and Trump does it well.

  7. Submitted by Jim Million on 05/03/2016 - 02:18 pm.

    also a cummulative effect of

    25 years of exposure to the public, no doubt. Given these particular polling stats, supporters seem to either like HRC or tolerate her.

    As you properly note, “her seeming inability to express complex ideas clearly” is rather bewildering. All should expect anyone in public life for 25 years to be engaged in topics and fluent in details of issues and positions, especially one’s own.

    It seems objectively fair to view anyone of important position and experience without such ability as somewhere between shallow and visionary, I suppose. Often those with “big ideas” of anything are weak on details. Sometimes such people are weak simply because they may not care about details if they do know them. Sometimes they also simply care not to know about them. I’d say the public has those choices of evaluation.

    People do assume leaders do know issues and important details. The predisposition to guard or eschew details might also be felt by others as some sort of deception. That’s where the trust and honesty numbers originate.

    In any case, American voters have residual memory of several figures exhibiting some or all of the above; however, HRC is the topic of concern here today.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/03/2016 - 03:13 pm.

    Completely Missing

    from the description here,…

    AND from the linked article,…

    is any description of the makeup of the focus groups who were shown these ads.

    If, as is typical with college professors doing research of the type where real people must be gathered together,…

    these focus groups were made up of college students,…

    that would very definitely skew these results against Hillary Clinton,…

    in the current political climate.

    That being the case, I’m surprised that such a vital piece of information is missing,…

    and the fact that it is missing leads me to question whether the results have any validity at all.

  9. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/03/2016 - 03:36 pm.

    It is probably the same racists

    that turn into misogynists when a woman is involved. You need look no deeper than the GOP in congress as the leaders of the pack. The leaders of the pack then ignite their supporters through inflammatory language and then, to their way of thinking, the fun begins. Once started it is hard to put out. President Obama has endured it from day one. In retrospect President errantly waited his first two years expecting the Republicans would work with him. In nearly eight years they still haven’t worked with him in any meaningful way. Hillary should pay attention and realize they won’t work with her either. That is what a leaderless party does – nothing.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/04/2016 - 08:22 am.

    Neo liberalism has failed most Americans, and so has Clinton

    I don’t know why anyone would be surprised this. Clinton came into this campaign as a divisive character who is hated for a variety of reasons real and imagined by conservatives and disliked and distrusted by many liberals simply because she’s not liberal.

    Sanders has done an excellent job of highlighting the failures of the neo-liberal policies that Clinton almost instinctively turns to. As a “Third Way” democrat almost every major policy Clinton has ever strongly supported, from her health care plan in the 90s, to the Iraq War, has been a republican initiative. The trade and economic policies she’s supported, from financial deregulation to offshoring have been economically devastating for millions of Americans. Her personal accomplishments much like her economics have simply failed to trickle down to American women.

    In short, right or wrong, fair or unfair Hillary Clinton has had decades to establish a record of integrity, advocacy, liberalism, and trustworthiness, and she’s failed. Why establishment democrats would select her as their preferred candidate is simply beyond comprehension. If anyone can lose to Trump, it Clinton. If Trump pulls and Etch-A-Sketch and enters the general election as a more reasonable candidate Clinton will be in serious trouble. And beyond all this, she’s one of the worse campaigner in American politics. Despite years of preparation and party advantages she’s still losing states to Sanders.

    I think Americans are more than willing to put a woman in the White House, in fact I think they’re more willing to elect a woman than they were a black man. Hillary just isn’t the woman they want to elect. If she gets the nomination, which looks likely, I’ll have my fingers crossed.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/04/2016 - 11:44 am.


      I agree that Clinton is far from a perfect candidate, but the only alternative that emerged wasn’t a real alternative at all. Sanders, coming off a long career of doing absolutely nothing, barely understands the issues he’s talking about. He’s never lifted a finger to help elect other Democrats, which is a big reason why the “establisment” doesn’t support him. Its always been about him, which isn’t true for Clinton.

      Sanders would also be lucky to even win Vermont once the Republicans dig into the treasure trove of material on Sanders and his corrupt wife. There’s a reason they want to face him, not Clinton.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/05/2016 - 08:16 am.

        Artificially constricted reasoning

        One of the more disappointing aspects of this election cycle has been a democratic display of artificially restricted reasoning that actually rivals that of the republicans. The notion that an unpopular, distrusted, and divisive candidate is the only POSSIBLE choice is just as corrosive to our democracy as Trump. If Clinton gets the nod from democrats it will mean that BOTH parties have actually managed to produce candidates that most Americans would rather not vote for.

        Sanders came into the race as a virtual unknown, self identifying as a socialist, who has financed his campaign without PAC or major Corporate funding, The fact is that if Clinton secures the nomination at this point is will not be because she’s the better option or candidate, it will be because Sanders was unable to overcome the obstacles placed in his way by the party establishment. The notion that Sanders isn’t a viable “choice” is denial pretending to be political wisdom. We’ve seen this denial before on display by democrats and it’s how they manage to lose elections and produce lame candidates despite clear advantages.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/04/2016 - 09:00 am.

    The spectrum of feminism…

    One thing that has become increasingly clear over the last several months is a number of weak assumptions on the part of Clinton and her supporters. Basically they seem to have come into this assuming that their support for Hillary was the strongest possible expression of feminism. The problem is that more radical feminists actually support Sanders for a variety of reasons, and this fact has taken Clinton supporters entirely by surprise.

    Many feminists reject Clinton because identity politics wherein individual women having attained success and power over the last two decades has failed to trickle down to women in general. A significant number of feminists don’t celebrate Clinton’s accomplishments because they think the women’s movement in general has stalled. Celebrating an individual woman’s accomplishment isn’t what such feminists think feminism is about. Other feminists reject Clinton because her policy decisions have actually been detrimental to women and children. This list goes on but the point is that the assumption that Clinton is/was entitled to widespread feminist support was seriously mistaken.

    Basically Clinton supporters apparently failed to realize that there are feminist to the left of Clinton’s feminism, and by definition those feminists are more progressive and sometimes more passionate. This fact has actually made Clinton a divisive character among women and feminists, something that neither Clinton or her supporters appear to have anticipated. It should be noted that this failure was the product of a “Hillary Bubble” because it was in fact predictable and predicted by progressives outside the bubble.

    By the way, I’m not “mansplaining” feminism here, you can check out the following articles for yourself:

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/04/2016 - 10:28 am.

    To be sexist about it, many women have a problem with other women. I read one article the other day, that suggested that Hillary was disliked by the “cool girls” as described in the novel “Gone Girls” by Gillian Flynn. I don’t know whether that’s true or false, but what did occur me that the complexity of category among women is far beyond the capacity of mere males to understand.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/04/2016 - 11:27 am.

    Actually, to be sexists about it

    The idea that men and women are from different universes, trapped behind impenetrable walls of gender, IS a sexist assumption. While a man cannot know what it’s like to actually BE a woman, the idea that men are incapable of understanding anything women try to explain, no matter how hard they try to explain it, is a gender assumption that insults the intelligence of both men and women.

    Feminism isn’t about creating gender specific dialogues that are inaccessible to anyone outside a given gender, on the contrary. Feminism has always been about creating a human dialogue that exposes illegitimate gender privilege and power for everyone to see. If only women are capable of recognizing illegitimate gender power and privilege, than men would be incapable of renouncing and denouncing their own illegitimate power and privilege, thereby cementing gender roles indefinitely. Cementing gender roles indefinitely is NOT the feminist project.

    Feminists have spent decades explaining this, don’t take my word for it, you can look it up.

Leave a Reply