Why Trump Won 2*

Today, this guy becomes US President

Today, this guy becomes US President

Almost every election victory involves stitching together a coalition, and Donald Trump did so successfully.

Asking why Donald Trump won is quite a different question from “why did Hillary Clinton lose?”, and that latter question will be addressed in another article soon.

The difference between Donald Trump’s victory and a defeat was very small: small margins in a small number of states.**

Because the margin was so narrow in those three or four states which Donald Trump won by small margins, many things, some big and some small, made the difference between a win and a loss.

Because so many events, activities, mistakes, and so on could each have driven the comparatively small margins by which Donald Trump secured victory, it means every commentator’s preferred reason(s) for victory can be claimed as THE reason for the result – everyone is right, and everyone wins a prize.

However there are bigger reasons why Donald Trump was able to secure victory, whilst so obviously unfit for the job. He should have been, by most criteria***, 30% behind and not just 2.2%.

For 23 years, Republican Party Members of Congress, bloggers, activists, and more, attacked Hillary Clinton. Regardless of the validity of those attacks, they constructed a consistent narrative about the character of Hillary Clinton, and built substantial distrust and dislike of her. That branding of Hillary Clinton was in place before she nominated, was present for the whole of the campaign, and was referenced often by many amongst Donald Trump’s supporters.  According to this narrative, she is an out-of-touch, remote elitist, focussed on her own advancement, and untrustworthy.

With many voters there was also a significant element of misogyny, synergising with the Republicans’ long-term branding of Hillary Clinton, which undoubtedly influenced their choice of candidates.

The Republican Party’s management of Hillary Clinton’s image, and the Trump campaign’s exploitation of that image, drove some voters towards Donald Trump, but also drove some voters, normally voting Democrat, to choose to abstain (see here about US voluntary voting).

The active things the Trump campaign deployed included the exploitation and maximisation of discontent: he branded himself as the voice of frustration, the voice of change, anti-elite, and anti-the system, which contrasted with Hillary Clinton’s image as part of “the system”.

His pivot to Republican orthodoxy, evident during the third presidential debate, was the point at which he began to win back the support of the Republican base, and their activists.

News articles are only now emerging which describe his under-the-radar campaign organisation, which to most commentators during the campaign did not appear to exist. Recent articles propose the data capabilities of the Trump campaign are competitive with the previously superior Democratic party machine, and the Obama campaign: while this may be the case, there is currently insufficient information in the public domain to allow a judgement.

The Trump campaign’s messaging was also effective: it was consistent, relentless, careful, and emotion-focused.

So Donald Trump was able to overcome what should have been unelectability, because

  • the Republican Party had invested cleverly in constructing his opponent’s image over the long-term, and the Trump campaign exploited that investment
  • his own campaign probably functioned more effectively than most people gave it credit for
  • his messaging was effective and delivered the voters he needed, and
  • he built a winning coalition of voters: most of the Republican base, and voters discontented with many elements of the American system of government.

 

* Just in time for inauguration day, this evaluation is based on observations from within the campaign and reading about it

** Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote by around 2.2%.

*** We’re going to talk about those differing criteria in the coming article about the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

 

 

About Mike Smith

Partner in Ethical Consulting Services: www.ethicalconsulting.com; sometime University lecturer; previously Government Relations consultant; before that Labor Party State Secretary in Northern Territory; union advocate with LHMU/United Voice in NT and NSW; hobby – election campaigns!

Posted on January 20, 2017, in campaigning, Democracy, Election, Political tactics, Politics, Strategy, Tactics, Values, Voting, Women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. G’day Mike, Good article and very insightful. However I do think you missed one very important aspect of the Republican branding of Hillary Clinton – her health. Whilst you state the narrative depicted her as out-of-touch, remote, elitist, focused on her own advancement, and untrustworthy it was the bizarre images of apparent seizures, going cross eyed, freezing mid sentence, head bobbing, bug-eyed and open mouthed episodes that did her the most damage. YouTube was awash with these images and her strange reactions to loud noises and bright lights. Many theories were promulgated with the majority of medical opinion (based upon observation only) being that they were not seizures but that she has advanced Parkinson’s disease and that the strange behavior, and the various episodes, were levodopa induced dyskinesia. The evidence as seen on YouTube was very compelling and very orchestrated and I believe was a major contributing factor to her defeat.

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