First GOP Debate: What We Saw

Amanda Hunter | Aug 24, 2023


Governor Haley stood out during the first Republican primary debate, and not just because she was the only woman on the debate stage. Here are some things we noticed in line with our Foundation’s research:

She emphasized her economic credentials. Early on, she criticized the Trump administration for the COVID stimulus, and used specific facts and figures to make her point. We know from our research that voters need more evidence that women are strong on the economy. By leading with that issue and using specific stats (which voters also prefer) she telegraphed that she is a strong economic leader.

Governor Haley showed strength. Governor Haley standing up to Vivek Ramaswamy (“You know you’ve put down everyone on this stage, but you want to go and defund Israel, you want to give Taiwan to China, you want to give Ukraine to Russia… You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows!”) was a way to show strength to voters. Our research shows that voters need more evidence that women are strong enough to be “commander-in-chief”, but if women are too tough, they risk jeopardizing favorability.  Voters respond well to women standing up for people and themselves on a debate stage, according to BLFF research.

Preparation is key. Whether talking about the percentage of aid various countries gave to Ukraine, or talking about the influence the ability to read has on success in the classroom, Governor Haley came armed with facts, figures, and statistics. This is important because voters want women leaders to be confident, organized, and use specific number rather than generalities.

Her closing statement didn’t include accomplishments. Our research shows that when women seek executive office, voters require much more evidence that women are qualified than they do for their male counterparts. Governor Haley chose to lead with her husband serving in the military in her closing statement, rather than her specific accomplishments as governor or UN Ambassador.

Appearance matters. Our research shows that voters have high standards for women’s appearance at official events. They expect women to look neat and put together—no wrinkles on their jacket or messy hair. Governor Haley had a well-tailored jacket and looked polished.

Governor Haley projected confidence. Overall, she was calm, cool, and prepared.  When she did briefly confront Vivek Ramaswamy, it was on behalf of everyone on stage, not just herself.

We will be watching to see how Governor Haley’s performance is received, and if she is judged more critically than her male counterparts in the coming days.

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