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Hillary Clinton, Sexism, and Baby Names

Like Donald Trump, researchers are still obsessing about the defeated presidential candidate. Unlike him, they are coming to some interesting new conclusions.

Polls suggest an increasing percentage of Americans are viewing President Donald Trump with a combination of alarm and dismay. Given our notoriously short attention spans, many are undoubtedly wondering, "How is it again that he got elected?"

The answer is complicated (the Electoral College played a big role), but a major factor was widespread dislike of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. A new study supports the suspicion that sexism played a significant role in her defeat, while another uses a unique metric to demonstrate just how unpopular she really was.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, commentators argued over whether Clinton's gender worked against her. "This is what misogyny looks like," wrote a columnist for the Guardian. "Sexism isn't the main culprit," responded a historian in the Washington Post.

OK, but was it a significant factor in determining a very close race? A research team led by psychologist Jarrod Bock of Oklahoma State University decided to conduct an experiment to find out. They surveyed 239 undergraduates (170 of them women) in the three months directly after the election, asking them who they voted for and which political party they identified with.

Participants also filled out a series of questionnaires designed to determine their level of sexism, including the degree to which they endorsed traditional gender roles. One survey differentiated "benevolent" from "hostile" sexism (which roughly means putting women on a pedestal vs. overtly asserting they are inferior to men).

Perhaps because Clinton is so polarizing, a whole lot of parents apparently don't want their girl to be associated with the former secretary of state.

"The levels of voter's sexism, attitudes towards women, and gender role attitudes played a role in voting behavior," the researchers write in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. "While political party orientation was by far the strongest predictor of voting behavior, our results demonstrate that greater hostile sexism, and having traditional attitudes towards women, served as strong predictors of voting for Trump."

Crucially, this relationship held true after taking into account a person's political party. That suggests a significant number of Democrats—how many is hard to say—were deterred from voting for their party's candidate because they were uncomfortable with the idea of a female president.

Separately, Brooklyn College psychologist Stefano Ghirlanda investigated anti-Clinton sentiment through an indirect measure: baby names. In the journal Cliodynamics, he examines the popularity of first names over the years, and finds a striking trend.

There was "a sharp drop in female newborns named 'Hillary' or 'Hilary' occurring in the U.S.A. after 1992 (the year Bill Clinton was elected president)," he writes. "The popularity of these names dropped by over 90 percent in just five to seven years, after having increased for more than 20 years.

"This is uncommon," he adds. "In name popularity cycles, falls are typically slower than rises. The number of boys named Elvis, for example, spiked dramatically after the release in 1956 of Elvis Presley's first single (Heartbreak Hotel), as well as after his death in 1977. "(But with the exception of Hillary Clinton), I have not found convincing evidence that public figures can influence name popularity negatively."

Surprisingly, further analysis suggests the name Hillary "became less popular among Democratic and Republican voters alike." Following the 1992 election, use of the moniker decreased in 49 of the 50 states. So this wasn't strictly a red-state phenomenon.

The choice of those names increased slightly in the first decade of the century before falling off again; at last report, it was down around where it was in the 1960s. Perhaps because Clinton is so polarizing, a whole lot of parents apparently don't want their girl to be associated with the former secretary of state.

It'll be interesting to see how "Donald" fares in a few years.