Behavior Economics

Donald Trump: FRAMED!

This presidential election season has been a whirlwind roller coaster ride, hasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep up! There are so many things to write about and there is just one little me and my god “life” to attend to. I don’t know why the wife and child think I should be “involved” in day-to-day life since school ended. Don’t they know that there’s an election on? Don’t they know I’m blogging?

In the News!

Clinton cares about the children and has all of her political career

Grabbed from Clinton’s Youtube Page

In the news this week, Clinton buys ads in eight battleground states! A couple are pro-Clinton ads explain who she is — She’s always thought of the children! It’s the children! The children! All right! All right! Go guest on The Simpsons, why don’t you?

Also in the news, Trump is raising funds and not answering Clinton and her allies’ attack ads or even propping him up with anything other than free media. At his last filing, he reported a measly $2.4 million dollars on hand. He can’t buy any ads until he raises some money! The billionaire is broke! Unbelievable. Everyone point and laugh now!


In a presidential election, the summer is for framing your opponent! Whatever the ugliest most unflattering image you can think of for your opponent, you try and put it out there for all to see and hear a thousand times! For example, in 2012 Obama’s campaign began running Romney attack ads. It was a relentless advertising onslaught. He began defining or framing Romney as an out-of-touch billionaire more likely to ride into town on his dressage horse to announce that these jobs could be done more cheaply abroad. BOOM! Another community destroyed by a venture capitalist. Meanwhile, Romney was holding off until the fall when voters would be really thinking about the election. He was wrong. He was framed! Bye Felicia! (Washington Post, The strategy that paved a winning path“)

The Framing Effect

Framing is the behavioral economics effect in which people come to different conclusions depending on the way information is presented. (conlatio, “Cognitive Bias“)

Once a frame is set, meaning information has been provided for people so that it is easily accessed when the topic comes up, then their perceptions have been manipulated. Consider these two words:

Bananas                                                  Vomit


Lie to Me (Licensed for reuse)

Most of us do not usually associate bananas with vomit unless you have an allergy or an unfortunate drinking episode involving banana daiquiris in your misspent youth or in the youth that you’re misspending right now! But, when you read the two words, some of you at least made the universal face of disgust a la Lie to Me and Paul Ekman (Body Language, Seven Basic Emotions“). For many others your palms got a little sweatier, your heart rate got a little beatier, and your arm hair got a little raisier. You automatically responded to the word as if you had encountered regurgitant. This response is completely beyond your ken and control.

This response comes from a complex network of associations that we have developed through experience. And, now, the concept of banana is associated with vomit. This association is accomplished by telling yourself a story: the banana caused the vomit. This association is strong enough that if you encounter the word banana in the near future, you will react with disgust. (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow)

Perhaps you don’t believe any of that. Consider this example then:

If after your next meal, you see this word puzzle, I can predict how you will complete it:

S O _ P

If you encounter the word puzzle after you do the dishes after that meal, I can predict how you will complete it:

S O _ P

SoapI’m willing to bet that you know the two letters that would complete these words: soup and soap. Why is the response predictable? Because the first sentence put you in mind of food and eating, and soup is the word that fits the bill. The second sentence puts you in mind of cleaning, and soap fits that bill.

Framing is a subtle effect. It relies on your predictable associations. These associations are predictable since we all have so much experience in common. Few people do not find vomit disgusting, and most of us associate soup with eating and soap with cleaning. (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow)

Political Framing

In 2012, Obama successfully framed Romney as a callous vulture capitalist. How do you feel about a callous vulture capitalist? Most of us are repulsed by them. Whether Romney was actually a callous vulture capitalist or not is immaterial. What mattered was that the feelings you associated with callous vulture capitalist with Romney.


Vulture at Naivasha Owl Trust (Jack’s photo)

The Republican party has successfully smeared Clinton as being untrustworthy and corrupt just through their mere repetition of accusations. Hillary has Benghazied all of her emails while enabling rapists! Run in circles! Scream and shout!

Pshaw! None of the “scandals” have been proven. But, the stink and mud sticks, and when most of us think of Clinton, we smell the stink.

Julie Azari suggests that experience can be disadvantageous for candidates because we define the candidate by their past decisions. In the age of hate that we currently live in, we can twist any innocuous decision into Beelzebub raining hell fire down on to the earth! Never mind that these criticisms may not be fair or accurate because when has fairness and accuracy matter in our political discourse? Certainly not in the last quarter century or more! Most political decisions are not cut-and-dry and occur in a specific context such as Clinton’s Iraq War vote. Obama framed Clinton with it in the year eight, Sanders attempted to frame Clinton as having faulty judgment based in part on this decision. Ironically more inexperienced politicians are not so easily framed. ( Five Thirty Eight dot Com, “Our Worst Presidents came in with a lot of Experience“)

In Obama‘s town hall on the “NewsHour” he opined that the only way curtailing gun violence can progress is if we quit considering any regulation as a tyrannical destruction of the Second Amendment. Then he lamented that that’s how the issue too often gets framed. (Huffington Post, Here Are The Answers To Sarah Palin’s Questions Attacking Obama’s Stance On Guns“)

Political Associations through Framing

  • dishonest and corrupt with Hillary Clinton
  • tyrannical destruction of the Second Amendment with gun regulation and Obama and any damned liberal that dares breathe!
  • callous vulture venture capitalist with Mitt Romney

We may think we are independent autonomous beings, but we really are dumb cows being led by the ring in our unconscious. Our views of the candidates and issues are formed practically before we find out who or what they are and without us every really realizing it.

Availability Heuristic

The only reader of my blog — I’m looking at you mom! — will realize that the framing effect is also connected to the availability heuristic (see below for related posts).

[The] availability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater “availability” in memory, which can be influenced by how recent those memories are or how emotionally charged they may be.(Own the Puck, “The Impact of Cognitive Biases on our Evaluation of Play“)

When a candidate’s name comes up, you reach for the information that is most readily available to you, and that information will be the way your opponent has framed the candidate and you won’t even realize it is happening. Ew! Mitt Romney is a dirty vulture! Yuck! Hillary Clinton is a filthy political opportunist that does good deeds in exchange for cash donations to their charity! How disgusting! Give money to provide generic antivirals to people in developing countries, improve the medical care provided to newborns and Hillary does you a favor while she’s out of office. Oh, would all corrupt politicians be so corrupt!

It takes tremendous cognitive effort to counter act the framing effect.


Clinton has bought millions of dollars of ad time in eight battleground states that Trump cannot counter. She is using her time between now and the convention to frame Trump as a risky candidate at a time when we cannot afford that risk.

Trump telling us all that he is against gay marriage

Grabbed from Clinton’s FB Page

Clinton has brilliantly used Trump’s own words against him. Many of her ads feature Trump speaking and then use quotes from news sources to describe him. Hearing Trump describe a woman as a pig, describe Judge Curiel as a Mexican, propose banning all Muslim immigration, propose a deportation force to deport 11 million people, say he will overturn marriage equality, say he will sign a national “religious freedom” bill hammers home how out-of-touch he is with mainstream American views. He paints himself as a racist, xenophopic, homophobic, transphobic, misogynist narcissist.


Clinton is helped in this effort by the Orlando gay nightclub massacre. Seeing a Muslim use a semi-automatic weapon to murder 49 people and injure over 50 others brings four crucial issues together: Islam, terrorism, gun violence, and the LGBTQ rights. Trump sounds like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he describes the shooter as being born in Afghan. He doesn’t sound like he knows what he is talking about when he says he will protect the LGBTQ community from radical Islamic terrorists and that he has been a friend of the LGBTQ community.

If Clinton can succeed in framing Trump as being a lose cannon, then she can reap the benefit of the public viewing him as unfit to be president. If Trump cannot counter the image she is making for him, then he may not ever be thought of as anything but an unfit candidate.

Risk Seeking

Bob over on Fiddy Bits (a missed opportunity, Bob! Missed opportunity) argues that if the public views the status quo (Obama’s presidency and by extension Clinton) as being a failure — unable to deliver on economic improvement, overcome gridlock in Washington, and protect the country from terrorism and other threats — then they could be more risk seeking and take a chance on Trump. (The Power of Fifty Bits, “Clinton’s Reframing of Trump as Risky is Risky Itself Risky“)

Another way of interpreting risk seeking is to consider whether the electorate looks at the status quo as having been successful, i.e. Obama’s presidency, then they could be in a mood to take more risks as well. If the economy is seen as doing well and we are safe from terrorism and other threats, then it might be that the electorate will be secure enough to take a risk on Trump. (The Psy of Life, How Obama Created Trump“)

Consequently, it is incumbent on Clinton to frame the election and Trump:

  • The election is a choice between competence and incompetence.
  • Clinton is known and predictable and Trump is unpredictable
  • The nation’s situation is too precarious to take a chance on Trump.
  • The status quo has delivered: the economy is improving, threats are under control, and the government can be functional again.

If she continues the trend of these recent ads, then she is well on her way to framing both the election and Trump.

Related Posts

Availability Heuristic






Loss Aversion









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