According to CNN: "Due to the results of a coin toss, Clinton will stand stage left (on the audience's right) and Trump will stand stage right (on the audience's left)."

Who won the toss?

My first guess was that Trump won and chose stage right, because if he shakes hands with Clinton he would be in the preferred position to be photographed shaking hands (with his hand in front of hers, conveying power). Is that correct? Or are there other reasons why one side of the stage or the other would be preferable for a candidate's optics during the debate?

  • Note that Hilliary got the same podium in the one on one debates with Bernie Sanders. Apparently it is based on poll position. Similarly the incumbant gets that podium. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 13:11
  • @sabbahillel haha! I love that. "Poll position" :)
    – user1530
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 1:07

2 Answers 2


I would say Hillary Clinton won the coin toss. In pictorial design, it is important to consider that the viewer focuses first on the things that interest him/her most, and then scans from left to right. Arriving at the most right area where something is going on (in this case, Hillary Clinton). The eye will rest there and has more time to take in the impression.

If you want to give something more importance in a a picture, put it in the right area. As long as there was no naked dancer to the right of Clinton, she was the most important part.

[edit] I did not find an English source for this "side-preference" statement, only a German one from the University of Bielefeld (old graphics design book): https://www.techfak.uni-bielefeld.de/ags/pi/lehre/GMLSS98/1998-08-25/MM_Buch/node22.html

Diese Richtungstendenz hat Auswirkungen auf die Bildgestaltung. Bildelemente oder Kontraste, die eine besondere Wichtigkeit bekommen sollen, sollten im rechten Bildfeld positioniert werden. Der Blick des Betrachters wird dort, nachdem das Bild von links oben nach rechts unten abgetastet wurde, zur Ruhe kommen.

It basically translates to what I wrote in this answer.


  • 2
    Do you have anything to back up your claim?
    – Rathony
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 12:47
  • @Rathony Hilliary Clinton won the coin toss because she answered the first question. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 12:51
  • 1
    @sabbahillel There was not necessarily a single coin toss that decided both issues.
    – Geobits
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 12:52
  • @Rathony Your question was did the poster have anything to back up the claim that Hilliary won the coin toss. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 12:53
  • 2
    It was implied in the CNN post (but not explicitly stated) that there were two coin tosses: One for question order and the other for stage position. For the purposes of this question let's separate the two, rather than linking them or rating them in importance. I'm just asking about stage position. I'm a graphic designer too, so I'm tempted to believe in the power of the position on the right side of the screen; but I'm interested whether there's any data to back that up. If it's important enough to leave to a coin toss, there's probably a side that both parties prefer for a clear reason.
    – joshstrike
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 13:41

The result of the coin toss showed which candidate would speak first

Whichever candidate has won a coin toss before the debate will respond first to the initial question.

From the transcript, we see that Hilliary Clinton won the coin toss to get asked the first question.

Beginning with you, Secretary Clinton, why are you a better choice than your opponent to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American works?

CLINTON: Well, thank you, Lester, and thanks to Hofstra for hosting us.

Apparently, this is why she was placed stage left (on the right of the audience)

The CNN Republican debate placed Mr. Trump stage center as the leading candidate, and flanked him with the next in order. Similarly, Hilliary got the center position in the democratic debates. Similarly, she got the right hand podium in the one on one debates with Bernie Sanders.

This might imply that Hilliary got the right hand podium because she is ahead in the polls.

The debates with a sitting president puts the incumbant in that position.

Nixon had that position in the debate with Kennedy (who was regarded as the "challenger")

I have seen references that people tend to pay more attention the their right so that stage left is regarded as more important. However, I do not have a citation for this. However, it would seem that people normally pay more attention to their right.

In slang terms, the right hand is regarded as more important and powerful. Thus being on the right (from the audience point of view) is preferred. You can see this from various biblical references as well. An example is when Jacob blessed his grandchildren. The placement of his right hand showed which blessing was to be "more powerful".

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