Swapped – NYU Experiment Changes the Way People Look at the 2016 Election

Everyone can at least guess that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got more females to vote for her than any other presidential candidate in history. As the first female presidential candidate in United States history, leading up to the November election date, many people declared that they would be voting for Mrs. Clinton solely based on the fact that she was a female.

During this very same time, a French INSEAD economics professor, Maria Guadalupe, was asking herself if the polls would look different if the 2016 presidential candidates’ genders were swapped. When Guadalupe teamed up with New York University – Steinhardt theater professor, Joe Salvatore, to ask the question, the results were staggering.

When speaking with Fox News, Salvatore said, “While we had ideas about what we thought might happen, we were also open to the idea that different things could happen.”

Rachel Whorton played Brenda King, President Trump’s alter-ego.

“Jonathan Gordon” and “Brenda King” are two characters created by the professors when they began their experiment at the beginning of the year, representing Clinton and Trump respectfully where their genders different but their arguments the same. To play the parts, Salvatore called on two experienced actors he’d worked with in the past, Daryl Embry and Rachel Whorton.


Guadalupe’s idea was to take scenes from the three presidential debates – mostly parts that consisted of back-and-forth dialogue between the two candidates and pieces without references to gender – verbatim, and give them to the two actors.

Daryl Embry played Jonathan Gordon, Mrs. Clinton’s alter-ego.

The actors were also expected to adopt certain characteristics personal to presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. From accents, hand gestures, and even posture, the actors needed to replicate every element of the candidates, as body language has just as much to do with debates as the argument.

“Clinton has a slight Midwestern accent that comes in and out, so we tried to pay really close attention to that. “It really separates her out from the actor, so when Daryl Embry performed her voice with the accent, we could hear her more.” Professor Salvatore said about the Jonathan Gordon character.

“For Trump, he uses his voice in a way where he goes into his lower register. He sort of goes into a gravely place in his voice and, obviously, when a woman is working in that, it won’t go as low.”

After thorough preparation, Salvatore and Guadalupe brought their experiment – which they call Her Opponent – to the stage for people to witness and judge.


Before watching Whorton and Embry, the audience was given a survey “…and asked to list three positive and negative attributes of the candidates as they remembered them from the debates.”

The play was thirty-five minutes long, and then the audience was given the same survey, but rather than the presidential debates in the fall, they were now asked to judge fictional candidates Brenda King and Jonathan Gordon.


“Most of the people there had watched the debates assuming that Ms. Clinton couldn’t lose. This time they watched trying to figure out how Mr. Trump could have won.” A New York Times reporter, Alexis Soloski stated, having observed the opening night of Her Opponent on January 28th – only a week after President Trump’s inauguration.

A scene from Guadalupe and Salvatore’s Her Opponent. 

“I’ve never been in a post-performance discussion where people were so articulate.”
Professor Salvatore admitted. “For me, watching people watch it was so informative. People across the board were surprised that their expectations about what they were going to experience were upended.”

The audience was alarmed to find that, where people had seen inspiration and courage within Hillary Clinton, they’d seen arrogance and “mansplaining” in Jonathan Gordon. Instead of finding Trump abrasive and hot-headed, the surveyors considered Brenda King’s character “passionate and “genuine.”

Candidates Hillary Clinton (right) and Donald Trump (left) during the third presidential debate.



Salvatore let it be known that he’d voted for Mrs. Clinton, but after conducting Her Opponent, he questioned the reasons behind why he’d done it.

For herself, Guadalupe pointed out how working on Her Opponent made her rethink gender bias within society and politics.

Many people usually see gender biased being man against woman, where it can just as easily be woman against man.

– Chloe Cushing, senior

For an example of Her Opponent, look below.


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