Act Fourteen – The Hawthorne Effect and It’s Impact on Presidential Politics

The Hawthorne Effect is defined as – The alteration of behavior by subjects of a study due to their awareness of being observed. While this is most relevant to psychological studies and clinical trials, it can very aptly describe, and possibly predict the actions of the two presidential candidates. In other words, the way Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton change conduct and reactions while being under the most intense scrutiny in their lives. As Rakshit quite rightly pointed out in the last article about how the inherent nature of human beings shape cooperation and diplomacy between countries, I thought it would be an relevant follow-up to draw an analogy by focusing on the race for the new leader of the free world.

How they will Govern

With less than 2 months left for the US Presidential elections, the most important thing to ponder on right now is how the two candidates will govern. While we have quite a bit of historical data about Mrs. Clinton from her stint as the Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady of US, it is easy to see the direction she will take as a President. She is pragmatic and most importantly, listens and acts at the behest of her advisers and constituents. Most of her decisions came from pleas and the direction of the President and the Congress.

This mindset and direction of Mrs. Clinton mirrors that of Mr. Obama with one key difference. She seems to adhere to the norms set by her predecessors. Which is the reason her critics lament that she’s just giving an Obama third term. Vox has an excellent video about the potential governing style of Mrs. Clinton based on what her previous aides and subordinates say about her.

Mr. Trump however, is cut from a different skin. Like the last Republican President, Mr. George W. Bush, he is instinctive and trusts his gut more than the conventional approach. But Mr. Trump pushes this approach to the extreme. While he does trust his own instincts more than his aides, subordinates or surrogates, he quite frequently changes his stance and opinions. This does not bode well with the current political establishment, Republican or Democrat, but it easy to see the appeal in supporting a leader who distrusts the way the current system is built.

After the conventions confirmed the two major party leaders, it has been interesting to see the impact of the Hawthorne Effect on them.

Mr. Trump frequently alters what he portrays to the media. The perfect example is his hardening, softening and re-hardening stance on immigration reform. Without worrying about consequences, he backed the deportation of all 11 million illegal immigrants, which was soon followed by offering some path to citizenship and then returning once again to deportation.

A perfect bell curve example of how increasing media scrutiny makes Mr. Trump go back and forth between stances. In the Daily Show episode on Sept. 8th, Trevor Noah put it best (paraphrasing) – “Mr. Trump changes his stances so much, thereby challenging the media to its hilt, they don’t know how to quite focus on him”. With years of reality TV experience, Mr. Trump truly has championed the art of turning the negative into a positive.

Mrs. Clinton, however, does not pay heed to increasing or decreasing media scrutiny. She has set out with a clear objective in mind and goes as far as to commit to one idea forever. In the Commander-in-Chief forum hosted by NBC, Mrs. Clinton said she’ll “never” commit ground troops to Iraq or Syria again. But this might work against her. With no press conference or Q&A in the last 9 months, she is banking on the fact that Mr. Trump will bring his downfall thereby making her the only choice. It is a risky gamble, which if it does not pay off will lead her to infamy – “The More Qualified Candidate Who Was Beat By a Reality TV Star”. While the Hawthorne effect maybe construed as more negative than positive, in this political climate, Mrs. Clinton is better off paying heed to it than not.

The Presidential Debates

The Hawthorne effect will be a sight to study in the Presidential Debates. Not only will it be a thrill to watch how the 2 react extemporaneously to hard-hitting questions (hopefully), but their political timing against each other.

Will Mr. Trump change stance every time he is hit with a tough issue? Will Mrs. Clinton not engage in quarrels (where Mr. Trump is somewhat of a champion) and focus on her policies and issues? Most importantly, what will actually appeal to the public? A quarreling instinctive candidate or a pragmatic calm nominee?

It is a match-up the whole country is eager to see.

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