Hillary Hijinks: DNC Manipulation 2016

As promised, here’s my analysis of the Democrats attempts to persuade. Hillary is in trouble.

Before I explain I have to repeat what I said last week about this election. On ethical grounds I will personally vote neither for Hillary nor Trump. I have no horse in this race. While I have strong political opinions, this year offers an opportunity for me to be truly unbiased. I dislike both the main candidates equally.

I always get in trouble from somebody when I analyze a politician. I get it! I may say things you don’t agree with, but in my line of work I feel like it would be a cop out not to give my analysis on such important public speeches. If you don’t agree with my analysis, feel free to leave a comment.

Uh Oh Hillary

I’ve said many times that on average Democrats are generally better speakers than Republicans–but not Hillary, and not her VP pick Tim Kaine. I bet you can’t remember one thing Kaine said other than “believe me.” In other words he reinforced Trumps image more than his own. Case closed.

On the positive side, Bill Clinton was one of the best. I’m aware of the criticisms he received, but for what he was trying to accomplish he was the best speaker I heard. Obama was good. Michele Obama was good. Joe Biden, despite his reputation has always been an excellent speaker.

Notice Hillary is not on that list. If she wants to win, she needs to fire her speaking coach immediately. Even die-hard democrats admit she’s not a polished speaker, but her performance at the Democratic convention was less than I expected.

Every speech can only be analyzed in the context of what the speaker was trying to achieve. I can only speculate about speakers’ motivations, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that Hillary’s goal was (or should have been) to overcome the perception that shes just a calculating, opportunistic insider.

Instead of dispelling the image, she reinforced it. Hillary’s remarks were directed at the left. If you are on the liberal end of the political spectrum you may not see any problems with her speech. If you are center or right, you probably agree that her speech did little to influence you.

The Bad

Let’s start with the bad. Bad in this context means “ineffective.”

Non Verbal Confusion

Let’s start with the single biggest problem. Watch the clip at right and notice how Hillary is speaking in short, halting, painfully slow sentences. The 151 words in that clip took almost a minute and a half–that’s 102 words per minute. Just so you know, the average public speaker is usually about 160 words per minute. A conversation is usually 120-150.

Even worse, when she’s talking about the book SHE wrote (cue 16:30)–“It takes a village”–and her supposed passion for the “stronger together” theme, she only gets up to 115 words per minute. Hillary spoke 30% slower than a regular person says things in real life. Real authenticity and passion come out fast, and they come out without a teleprompter.

It’s painful! There is nothing that kills authenticity like reading something you’re supposedly passionate about from a teleprompter. The teleprompter is not a problem, but if it SOUNDS LIKE you need a script to talk about your wedding, or family, or your own book, people are going to subconsciously question the story.

She should fire her coach immediately. I know it’s her coach’s fault because her daughter Chelsea spoke with exactly the same style and speed.  Any coach who is trying to slow down their client in a moment of passion doesn’t know what he is doing. (See my post on fast talking)

Fortunately Clinton started talking at a normal rate for most of the second half of the speech.

But the non-verbal confusion goes even further. Cue the video to just about any sentence and you’ll notice that Hillary has a strange habit of starting each sentence quietly and getting louder and louder toward the end. There is nothing natural about it! Not only does it sound unnatural, but it places emphasis on the wrong words.

What Hillary says (cue 14:30):

Isn’t [Trump] forgetting Troops on the front LINES, Police officers and fire fighters who run TOWARD DANGER, Doctors and nurses who care for US, Teachers who change LIVES.

What Hillary meant to say:

Isn’t [Trump] forgetting TROOPS on the front lines, POLICE OFFICERS and FIRE FIGHTERS who run toward dander, DOCTORS AND NURSES who care for us, TEACHERS who change lives.

It might not sound that bad, but she does it constantly, and subconsciously it sends mixed messages to the listener.  When the message is mixed it’s easier to discount the messenger.

Trump is excellent at emphasizing the right word–which he usually places last. Hillary just emphasizes the last word no matter what it is, and it creates an unnatural cadence. Unnatural speed and awkward cadence make the language seem calculated and insincere, which only reinforces the the impression that she is calculating and scripted.


At 20 minutes Hillary finally uses the right technique (for her) to portray authenticity. She decides to share her motivations. Instead of talking about her candidacy she says she wants to tell us WHY. There is nothing more authentic than motivation. Sharing WHY you do things is one of the easiest ways to bond with others and win them over. (Here’s a recent post on the subject)

Unfortunately, she never shared her PERSONAL motivation. She veered off into stories about her grandfather’s “service” and her father’s and mother’s philosophy. She didn’t own the WHY.

The WHY was framed as “humble selfless service.” That would be fine if it didn’t contradict her whole persona. She doesn’t get the biggest applause for humble service, she gets the biggest applause when she talks about being a woman breaking the glass ceiling. She’s openly and passionately ambitious when talking about being a successful woman and then pretends her public service is without ambition and only for “service.”

She’s sending mixed messages.

If she wants moderate voters to believe her, she needs to embrace the image of ambition. She shouldn’t say she entered public “service” because she respected her parents selflessness; she should admit she entered public “service” because she had big ambitions and it made her proud. People can relate to that and would not fault her for it.

If she would have framed her WHY as ambition with a side of “service” instead of denying the ambition it would have been more believable. Instead, she reinforces the suspicion of disingenuous words.

Stronger Together

My final negative observation is less black and white.

Hillary’s clear theme was “stronger together.” She linked most policy examples and pledges back to the concept of unity over division.

She is attempting to persuade by tapping into your social identity. The in-group and out-group she has picked are “positive uniters” versus “negative dividers.” Those are not her words, but it is the essence of her message.

Using social identity is normally very effective, except I believe it was a mistake to pick these groups. Here are 3 reason why I don’t think these labels will work long term:

1. Togetherness is a weak identity.
Social identity theory requires an out group. The human animal thrives emotionally on the idea of an antagonist. The concept of “uniting” denies this human need. The antagonist doesn’t have to be evil or wrong. You don’t have to be mean. But you do have to have irreconcilable differences.

2. The out-group creates hypocrisy.
When you have to define your in-group as uniters and your outgroup as dividers you have to contradict yourself. Every time you criticize the “dividers” aren’t you also being divisive? Yes. In fact with every new point she continually lists dozens of policy and personal examples that were divisive. Every time she segregates her own party into political factions or criticizes opposing groups she undermines her “stronger together” message.

3. It’s a risky bet.
Hillary’s betting that nothing bad happens. Any terrorist or economic event between now and the election will stir negative emotions in the electorate. Those type of events stir feelings of blame and division. Every time a negative (divisive) event happens, reality will look divided and the “unity” message will seem incongruent with reality. The “unifying” message will not be an outlet for divisive emotions. Trump is banking on the opposite. He will use every negative news story to channel energy into his straight forward “us versus them” stance. Only time will tell who is right, but I wouldn’t take that bet.

The Good

Let’s talk about the good. Remember I’m not making moral or policy judgments in this blog. In the context of this analysis, “good” simply means “effective” communication.


Clinton has a reputation for writing notes, giving gifts, and otherwise taking care of those who work close to her. The general idea of empowerment is to always try to make people feel better about themselves.

When communicating with a large group, empowering individuals is often overlooked. You’ll notice that not only did Clinton mention LOTS of people by name during her speech, but before she even began she walked from one side of the stage to the other pointing and smiling to INDIVIDUALS!

The reason I recognized this is because I’ve seen her do it in every speech I’ve ever watched her give. It’s obvious to me that it is not happenstance, but that it is very deliberate on her part.

If you distrust Clinton and believe she’s pointing into thin air smiling over people’s heads just to give the appearance of friendliness and connectedness, then great! It’s an effective tactic.

If you love Clinton and believe she is sincerely glad to see individuals she recognizes, then great! It’s an effective tactic.

Stereotypes and Caricatures

If you want an emotional reaction from your audience, one of the easiest ways to manipulate someone’s feelings are to create a caricature. Rather than just telling the listener why the other side is wrong, or listing arguments against the opposition, a savvy speechwriter will instead create a caricature of the out-group.

Trump makes this easy and Hillary latched on. The idea is to take the worst representative of the opposition and tell his story. Whether directly or indirectly, that stereotypical example become the model for everybody in the out-group, as if they are all the same.

For example, you can identify the worst example from another race and imply that everyone of that race shares those bad traits. That is pure racism.

It’s not recognized as often when a speaker applies this tactic to a political party member or religion, but the principle of stereotyping is the same. This is a dangerous, but effective tactic–implying that the entire group is just like the caricature of it’s worst member.

Sometimes there is a fine line between ethical persuasion and unethical manipulation. Clearly, stereotyping is unethical in the case of race (because an individual was born into their race). I do not believe it is always wrong in cases where the out-group is formed by its member’s choices.

Hillary effectively painted a negative picture of Trump. To her credit she did not directly tie ALL Republicans to Trump. She did do it indirectly in the clip at right.

She could have taken it a step further by targeting the identity of the voters and not just the candidate. She listed lots of groups that she believes will vote democratic (racial, LGBT, immigrant, Muslim, etc). She could have done the same on the opposing side by painting a dim view of Trump’s ardent supporters rather than just a dim view of Trump.

Emotionally, lots of people can end up voting for someone they dislike, as long as their friends are voting for him too. If she wants to be more persuasive she needs to convince voters to be ashamed of supporting Trump in their own peer groups.

Group Identity

Instead of stereotyping all republican voters, Hillary identifies the group of those who didn’t think Donald was serious. This allows her to create a new in-group for dissatisfied Republicans to have something in common with herself.

As I’ve mentioned in many many posts, the single most influential way to gain loyalty for a politician is by clearly identify the in-group and out-group and convincing the listener that you are part of their in-group.

All successful politicians, especially Democrats, are good at capitalizing on identity politics. The challenge for Hillary was to define an in-group that moderates and independents want to join. Her choice: People who don’t trust Trump.

However, she comes dangerously close to validating the opinion that “he doesn’t really mean it.” This could easily backfire into: People who don’t think he really means it. She needs to more clearly define the groups.

The single most effective part of Hillary’s speech was the time she spent attacking Trump and painting him as an outsider to the norm.

As much as people don’t want to admit it, the divisive rhetoric is essential. To belong to a party, or a candidate you have to know what you stand for, but you also have to know what you stand against.

The Verdict

Hillary’s speech may give her a bump within the Democratic party. However, I doubt her approach will do anything to permanently reel in independents or moderates. For those who aren’t already partisan, she simply didn’t do much to address her negative image. On the contrary, she reinforced it.

Why did she speak partisan talking points and reference liberal group identities that would appeal to the left, but not the center? I don’t know.

I believe that was a mistake, and her speech should have been directed to the center. If influencing undecideds was the goal, she failed. On the other hand, if it was her intention to reinforce the loyalty only of those within her party, then perhaps she succeeded.

I believe the influence of her convention will be temporary. The early polls look better than they should for her, I believe, in part, because Trump has made some missteps this week.

Based on the first half of Hillary’s speech alone, I would have said unequivocally that Trump would win. However, the second half was much stronger and she raised her chances by improving her non-verbals and going on the attack. After the second half, instead of a guaranteed Trump win I say instead that the outcome is in Trump’s hands. Trump choices are what will win or lose this election.

Trump has proven he has the persuasion skills. When I say Hillary is in trouble I’m not referring to the convention, I’m pointing out that if she continues to use the same tactics head to head against Trump when she doesn’t have 100% production control, many of her techniques have the potential to backfire.  If Trump capitalizes on that, which I believe he will, Trump wins.

I’m Looking forward to next week’s blog, because we can leave politics alone for a while.

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