Researchers Gender-Swapped the Trump/Clinton Debates, and Ended Up With Surprising Results

Zach Montanaro | March 9, 2017
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Have you ever wondered how people would react during last year's presidential debates to a male version of Hillary Clinton and a female version of Donald Trump? Well recently, two researches set out to find just that -- and the results surprised even them.

Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, and Joe Salvatore, a Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre, together developed "Her Opponent," a production in which actors re-created certain moments from the three Trump-Clinton debates exactly as they happened. The only difference was that Clinton was played by a man, and Trump was played by a woman.

Both Guadalupe and Salvatore admit that they initially began the production to confirm their own inherent biases: that Trump’s aggressive behavior and tendency to attack wouldn’t be tolerated coming from a woman, while Clinton’s “competence and preparedness” would sound more convincing coming from a man.

The results, however, surprised even them.

The audience who watched the performance found the female Trump to be confident, plainspoken, and able to convey a simple message that was easy to understand, while the male Clinton came across as rather stiff and like she was saying rehearsed statements.

One audience member even said that the male Clinton’s tendency to smile all the time made him “really punchable.”

Salvatore himself admitted that he was surprised at how very critical of the male Clinton he ended up being, while at the same time seeing the confident female Trump as someone who he would want to have a beer with.

“The majority of my extended family voted for Trump,” Salvatore said. “In some ways, I developed empathy for people who voted for him by doing this project, which is not what I was expecting. I expected it to make me more angry at them, but it gave me an understanding of what they might have heard or experienced when he spoke.”

Many in the audience also found themselves walking away from the experience with a greater understanding of how Trump appealed to so many people. The female Trump seemed to shine in moments where some remembered the real Trump to be flailing, while others couldn’t find in the male Clinton what they had admired about the real Clinton.

“I was struck by the strength of the technique of the [female Trump] character,” said a man in the audience, speaking after the show. “Attack. Consistently attack. Never stop attacking.”

Another woman concurred with this. “When she was attacking, I had so much respect for her and her level of confidence.”

Whatever your thoughts on the outcome of the election were, it is still fascinating to see projects like this tackling basic assumptions of the political process and completely turning them on their head.

You can watch a very brief clip from the production below:



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