Hillary Wore Red, Donald Wore Blue: The Psychology Behind the Debate Color Swap

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the debate. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands on stage before the first presidential debate. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

On Monday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debated for the first time. They stuck with their signature styles — Clinton wore a bright pantsuit; Trump donned a colorful tie, crisp white shirt, and, of course, a spray tan — but one detail stood out: The candidates wore colors generally associated with the other’s political party.

Clinton selected a warm, crimson ensemble in traditional Republican red, whereas Trump opted for a tie in royal blue — a rallying hue for the Democratic Party.

This surprising switcheroo was immediately noted on social media:

So is there a deeper meaning behind this unexpected shade swap? According to the field of color psychology, the answer is yes, sort of — and its researchers have turned up a handful of interesting insights.

Hillary clinton wears red to debate
Hillary Clinton wore traditional Republican red to the first debate. (Photo: Getty Images)

Red can help you win

Generally associated with warmth, courage, willpower, speed, and assertiveness, red has been found to tip the winner scales at sporting events because it’s touted to increase players’ aggression and dominance.

In an experiment at the 2004 Olympic Games, psychologists Russell Hill and Robert Barton found that boxers who wore red shorts in combat sports such as boxing were about 5 percent more likely to win their match than opponents in blue shorts. In their paper, Hill and Barton call the color red a “sexually selected, testosterone-dependent signal of male quality in a variety of animals.”

They also noted that “wearing red presumably tips the balance between losing and winning only when other factors are fairly equal.” Like, say, in a neck-and-neck presidential race.

Red also increases attraction

A 2008 study found that “red, relative to other achromatic and chromatic colors, leads men to view women as more attractive and more sexually desirable.” The hypothesis: Humans may be conditioned to associate the color with fertility. The same researchers found a few years later that human reactions become both faster and more forceful to the color because “it is seen as a danger cue. Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack. People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and its implications.”

trump in blue at debate
Trump turned the tables in a Democratic blue tie. (Photo: Getty Images)

Blue helps along our creative thinking

Scientists from the University of British Columbia found in 2009 that blue is the best color for boosting creative thinking. “Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace, and tranquility,” author Juliet Zhu said. “The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory.”

Blue’s also the most popular color

In 2012, University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen asked nearly 2,000 men and women what their favorite color was, and found that blue scored highest across sexes, with 42 percent of men preferring blue and 29 percent of women touting it as their preferred shade — and this basically held true across age, race, and education level.

Color might not have played a major part in the debate, but during an election in which appearance and looks are integral, every outfit counts.

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