Debate light on ‘women’s issues’

Andra Gillespie, Emory University

If viewers were expecting a significant engagement of gender issues in the second GOP debate, then they were disappointed. Aside from the discussion of reproductive health and Planned Parenthood, the discussion of Donald Trump’s comments about Carly Fiorina’s face, and the question of which woman should be on the $10 bill, the GOP debate was light on gender issues.

There was no discussion of the gender gap in income, family leave, sexual assault on college campuses or military installations—or anyplace for that matter—domestic violence, or other topics that we typically define as “women’s issues.”

I would rate Fiorina’s performance as favorably as I would her performance in the undercard debate last month. She came to the debate prepared. She articulated her points well. She was tough, but gracious, in confronting the issue of Donald Trump’s intemperate comments about her. While she claimed to not want to play the gender card, her response to Donald Trump’s Rolling Stone comments was a clear overture to women voters.

She was clearly at home on the stage with the top contenders, and it was obvious that she was trying to present herself as a viable, “outsider” alternative to Donald Trump.

It will be interesting to see whether she, Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson benefits most from a potential Trump implosion in the long term. Fiorina wants to present herself as the outsider who is more prepared and more serious about the task of actually learning the job of president.

Fiorina will have hurdles in winning the nomination. As her stock rises, she will face deeper and more pointed criticism. Already on Wednesday night, she had to confront criticism about the circumstances surrounding her dismissal from Hewlett-Packard. And if the Twitterverse is any indication, Democrats are eager to pounce on allegations that Hewlett-Packard illegally sold computer parts to Iran under her leadership. These attacks could reveal weaknesses that could upend her candidacy.

Like many others, I watched tonight’s debates wondering if Donald Trump was going to say or do something that would start to affect his poll numbers. If his campaign loses momentum from this debate, it will likely be because Trump was relatively silent in the middle part of the discussion. His reticence may have signaled a lack of preparedness to some viewers.

Overall, this debate may not register much in the polls. Yes, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and even Lindsay Graham (in the undercard debate) had their moments to shine. I’m just not sure that those soundbites will be enough to significantly change most candidates’ positions in the polls.

Andra Gillespie is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Emory University. She teaches introductory American and African American politics and an occasional course called “New Black Political Leadership.” She is the author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark and Post-Racial America.

Trump’s sexism hurts everyone

Jeanne Zaino, Iona College/NYU

Just prior to the first commercial break in CNN’s debate, moderator Jake Tapper asked Carly Fiorina to respond to Donald Trump’s recent insult in Rolling Stone. Trump suggested that some people may not vote for Fiorina because of her face.

Fiorina’s response was strong and decisive, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” The audience erupted in applause.

Trump’s half-hearted response should give most thinking people pause. “I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman.”

Recent research conducted by Lake Research Partners on behalf of “Name it. Change it” finds that sexism, of the sort we heard in Trump’s response tonight, hurts the person who says it and the victim.

Sexism like that, the authors of the study note, “hurts female candidates and makes nearly every potential voter—from the undecided to initial supporters—less likely to cast a ballot” for the female candidate. The damage is often 10 percentage points or greater. Moreover, it’s a “lose-lose proposition” meaning that sexism hurts both the female target (in this case Fiorina) and the culprit (Trump).

The study also found that this type of sexism is best dealt with by a “strong” and “immediate response” from the female candidate. Fiorina did that during the debate, and even before the debate began. Throughout the last week during speeches and in the release of an ad by her SuperPac, Fiorina took Trump to task for his comments.

Fiorina was one of 11 people on the debate stage and she more than held her own. Many female viewers will applaud her for that. But by the same token, Carly is not only a woman—but a woman with very specific views on issues like choice, maternity leave, and Obamacare.

What is so troubling is that as women we are still dealing with enormously long odds when it comes to seeing a female in power. That makes it hard for women to sit silently by and not cheer her on. But we will be cheering her on and hoping that going forward, women won’t have such a limited selection to choose from.

Jeanne Zaino’s work has been published in journals such as: Campaigns and Elections, Journal of Politics, Journal of Political Science Education, and the Chronicles of Higher Education. Her most recent books are Adventures in Social Research: Data Analysis Using SPSS (Sage) and Core Concepts in American Government (Prentice Hall).

Opportunities lost on social media

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Syracuse University

Debates are a chance for candidates to demonstrate that they understand the pressing issues of the day. Debates also allow them to craft a presidential image.

Carly Fiorina stepped out of the shadow of Donald Trump and Jeb Bush Wednesday night to carve out an image as a fighter with remarkable command of foreign and domestic policy. Yet, on social media, her campaign didn’t use Facebook and Twitter to amplify her message.

Savvy campaigns use Twitter to extend the debate-stage conversation with journalists, supporters—and even their opponents. Twitter is where journalists live, and campaigns see Twitter as a place to prove why they won the debate and why their ideas are best for the country. Social-media-aware campaigns use Facebook to share infographics, post edited video segments, and underscore their debate message. They talk to their supporters to help reinforce enthusiasm and increase knowledge of the candidate.

Fiorina’s campaign strategically used the buzz about her debate performance to fundraise online. They paid for a promoted tweet on the #gopdebate hashtag. And, after the debate, one of her two Twitter accounts, @carlyforamerica, heavily retweeted messages from supporters and pundits that she won the debate. Her personal account and her Facebook page urged donations to keep her fighting. But the messages that could amplify her presidential image and educate her supporters about her policy positions did not come through on social media–which increasingly is where public opinion is shaped.

Jenny Stromer-Galley is an Associate Professor in the School of Information Studies and Director of the Center for Computational and Data Sciences at Syracuse University. Her book Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age provides a history of presidential campaigns as they have adopted and adapted to digital communication technologies.

The Conversation

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