This semester I have spent the majority of my time trying to figure out exactly how Clinton’s campaign sought to appeal to voters on the fringes. I specifically looked at the Bernie supporters and the Republicans that agree with liberal social agendas. These were the voters without a candidate in the 2016 Election, and the voters who Clinton needed on her side to win the presidency.

The results were not in Clinton’s favor. America was shocked – the media had made Clinton’s win seem inevitable! My question is this: what did she miss? How were the polls wrong? It seemed as if Clinton’s campaign was near flawless.

Despite the overall strength of Clinton’s campaign, perhaps she misjudged the hierarchy of values present in voters. Perhaps her appeals, while sufficiently strong, were not aimed correctly. This (mis)interpretation of values might have been the achille’s heel of her campaign.

Background

In researching Clinton’s campaign in 2016 I found that it was more useful to step back and look at the larger picture. Incorporating the context of Clinton’s candidacy, the way in which she was viewed by the media, the arguments she put forward in her speeches, and the methods she used, helped me come to the conclusion that the reception to Clinton’s appeals, however strong, are often informed by her femininity. This synthesis was instrumental in understanding the context of Clinton’s appeals towards voters in her campaign.

Clinton as Rhetor

Clinton’s appeals are most clearly established in her speeches and interviews. Clinton has been in the national spotlight for years, and so she is a unique candidate in that her campaigning essentially began when she took on the role of first lady. Annotating Clinton’s speeches in chronological order offers a clear picture of her appeals to values throughout her candidacy.

On September 5, 1995, as first lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton delivered this speech. The United Nations 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China was one of the first instances where Clinton defined herself as a rhetor on the world stage. She speaks for women and children, and coins the phrase, “women’s rights are human rights.” My annotations offer an understanding of this speech’s logical appeals in conjunction with some early suffragist arguments.

Clinton gave a speech during the 1996 election cycle, while President Bill Clinton was running for re-election. Clinton uses the term “superpredators” in reference to inner city youth likely involved in gang culture. This term came under great scrutiny, but the speech also makes weak rhetorical appeals. My classmates “briedanielle” and “wordsofthewall” both note a weak appeal to pathos in the speech with their comments. A full video can be found here, and my annotations are available here.

Jumping ahead to Clinton’s candidacy in 2016, after winning the Democratic nomination, Clinton delivered a speech that defined the values of her campaign. I explored this speech in depth and realized that the arguments Clinton made were premised in the values and beliefs she believed voters hold. My understanding is that her campaign felt a value charged connection might be the first step to convincing voters about more specific policy issues. My annotations break down her appeals line by line.

A highlight from the 2016 campaign was Clinton’s interview with Brandon Stanton for Humans of New York. Clinton discusses the challenges of pursuing a law degree while being a woman. Although a personal anecdote, this is an appeal towards voters values. She is showing voters that she can handle the insults thrown her way, and will always come out at the top. Her determination was always highly favored. My annotations of this interview reveal just how impactful this personal anecdote was.

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Although Clinton’s loss was both shocking and defeating, her concession speech continued to appeal to the values of voters. However, with a different intent, the appeal was somehow stronger. Clinton’s concession speech was rhetorically strong – it appealed to logos, pathos, and ethos in both content and delivery. As much as she was speaking to her supporters, she was speaking to the nation and once again worked to define what truly makes America great. My annotations break apart the appeals in her speech.

A Hierarchy of Values

If I were to create a hierarchy of values for Clinton and the voters she was appealing to they might look something like this. At the foundation voters agree with Clinton. Yet conflict emerges as Clinton’s value for privacy, and desire to appeal to all takes center stage in her campaign. This conflicts with voter’s desire for a transparent candidate that can directly appeal to their individual beliefs.

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So what went wrong?

There is no objective way to know where Clinton’s campaign might have failed to unite and excite voters. In hindsight it is clear that her appeals to value and belief might have been too vague and inclusive to appeal to any particular group. This might have left voters feeling lukewarm, while her opponent utilized explosively emotional appeals. There were many factors in the 2016 election that impacted the results, but Clinton’s appeal to value was a major part of her campaign. While rhetorically strong, when broken apart it is clear the appeals lacked specificity, and might have ultimately alienated some voters while at the same time failed to excite most voters. This combination of misunderstanding and desire to appeal to all is, in my opinion the achilles heel of Clinton’s appeal to values and belief.

 

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