Category Archives: campaigning

20 years ago today

Twenty years ago today was Northern Territory Election Day: 30 August 1997.

The Australian Labor Party had never governed in the Territory, and never looked like they would win the 1997 Election.  Labor polling showed them heading for a bloodbath – they were starting with only 7 seats in the 25-seat Legislative Assembly, but Party polling showed they were on track to lose several more.

From early that year, Labor’s caucus led by Maggie Hickey seized on the many issues of weakness for the governing Country-Liberal Party (CLP) and worked with real focus in the run-up to Election Day.  Labor’s polling showed the electorate had little regard for the CLP, and the aggressive advertising campaign closely paraphrased the research findings.

The TV ads, in particular, were controversial and met with a mixed reception, but all evidence is that the average voters, mostly, loved them:

The result?  Labor lost one seat, for local reasons quite unconnected with the main campaign.

 

 

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.

 

 

US Elections – How Donald Trump Won

hill-and-donCompare Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Donald Trump clearly won the latter through a massive turnout of rarely-votes in the middle of the state (see www.philly.com/philly/infographics/400507161.html) and appears to have won the former by winning over previous Democrat voters (see www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/michigan/2016/11/11/donald-trump-michigan-counties-clinton/93641908/) – though more analysis will give a better picture.

That’s two entirely different ways of winning, in two important states.

Obama in the contested 2008 Primary had a successful State-by-State win plan: did Trump have the same in 2016?  These different patterns in two critical states suggest perhaps he did.

Kellyanne Conway was his final campaign manager http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/the-woman-who-made-president-trump/news-story/766f339657fcb2429068b200adf166b5 and deserves major credit for his victory, but she took over only a scant 12 weeks out from election day – could she have created and executed such a state-by-state plan in so short a time?  Her predecessors, incompetent and possibly corrupt, seem unlikely to have had such insight and coherence.

Insider-tell-all books after the 2008 and 2012 election cycle answered many questions about internal strategy development – the 2016 version may tell us whether there was such a plan, or whether luck and happenstance played a bigger part.

However, Kellyanne achieved in less than three months something much more formidable: she created a new candidate and a new election, and hence a winning coalition, by taming Trump.

Before the Presidential Debates, Trump had set about making himself the outsider who could upturn politics-as-usual and fix a failed system.  His plain speaking, deliberately provocative and deliberately different from Republican orthodoxy, had built a loyal following amongst those alienated from the “American Dream”, but failed to broadly inspire evangelical Christians, and alienated moderate Republicans.  His support, lacking those two components of the Republican base, was insufficient for victory.

Just prior to the October 19 third debate, his language moderated, his insults decreased, and the content of his ad-hoc statements became more coherent.  At the third debate, he pivoted, pressed the case for the Republican Right’s hot-button policies, and they flocked to his banner.  Post-debate, he became increasingly a more polished and less alienating candidate.  Some of the moderate Republicans, contemplating voting for Hillary, moved back to the fold.

To the Republican base, Trump now looked – more-or-less – like a Republican.

Quite suddenly, the Clinton campaign faced a different candidate, who now led a coalition of the disaffected and the Republican base, to which they had no adequate counter.  It’s not even clear they noticed the new candidate.

 

 

(Half of Ethical Consulting Services (Mike) has been embedded in the campaign since mid-October.)

 

 

US Elections – 3 Phases, Now

hill-and-donThe future of this US Election cycle divides neatly into three phases:

  • between now and the close of polls;
  • from election night to the new President’s inauguration on 20 January 2017; and
  • after inauguration.

Phase 1 – up to close of polls

The next seven days will see a recently-better-controlled and more-focussed Donald Trump try to build on his gains of the last two weeks: victory is probably beyond his reach, but he’s now about saving the Republican Party from electoral devastation.

We’ll see Republicans actively campaign to suppress Democrat votes, and intimidate Democrats at polling places.

Will Hillary’s current lead, and voter revulsion at Trump, translate into effective Democrat control of Congress?

In the last two weeks, Hillary has slipped back in the polls by about 3%** nationally and if this trend continues through the week it will be a much tighter election (see http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/on-a-scale-of-1-to-10-how-much-should-democrats-panic/) and a much-reduced chance of coat-tails for the Democrats.

Phase 2 – election night to inauguration

A lot can happen between the TV networks*** declaring a winner on election night, and the Inauguration on 20 January 2017.  In 1861, most of the Confederacy announced their secession between Abraham Lincoln’s victory and his inauguration*, for example.

The victor’s speech matters – it sets the tone for their transition – as does the speech of the vanquished.  Will Hillary lay out a plan to heal the divisions made strikingly evident by this campaign?  Will Trump try to mobilise his supporters to defy US democracy and challenge Hillary’s legitimacy?

Will the new President have a supportive Congress to speed up and smooth their appointment of senior staff and transition to leadership?

Phase 3 – after inauguration

After they are inaugurated on 20 January 2017, the new President at last will begin the absurdly slow and complicated process of appointing senior Government officials.

Will ongoing challenges to the legitimacy of the new President undermine their capacity to govern and to lead?  Can the kind of illegitimate claims of “rigging” made by Trump be sustained beyond the short term?

Will the Republican Party’s grown-ups, so lacking in presence and responsibility for well over a decade, decide to take their Party leadership back from those who facilitated Trump, or do they lack the integrity?  If Trump wins, he’ll remake the Republican Party, and seek to remake the US, in his own image: there will be no room for more moderate voices, and the world will struggle to know how to respond.

 

* In March – these days it’s in January.

** as at 2 November 2016

*** Yes, on election night the TV networks call the shots.  The result isn’t formally declared until the Electoral College reports to Congress and Congress votes on their report at 1.00 pm on 6 January 2017.

 

Ethical Consulting Services’ Mike Smith is embedded in the US Presidential Elections until Election Day.

 

 

US Elections – The Coward’s Pivot

hill-and-donThe third US Presidential debate yesterday was fascinating for many reasons, but most of all because it revealed Donald Trump, like all bullies, to be a coward; it also showed he’s capable of rational desperation.

Donald Trump performs better each debate – he’s better briefed, more mannerly, and more rational.  More of his sentences are completed.  Hillary Clinton continues to display superior intelligence, depth, understanding, and thoughtfulness.

The big debate take-away:

It’s been proven time and again: if you must commit resources to activating your base your campaign is in trouble: someone has persuaded Trump, because his campaign is so desperately failing, he must proclaim conservative Christian orthodoxy, and gun-ownership focussed orthodoxy, to persuade Republicans to bother to vote for him.  His debate performance wasn’t appealing to middle America – undecided, moderate and independent – when he talked so strongly about opposing abortion and stacking the US Supreme Court; he was talking to the Republicans who’ve seen him as a hypocritical libertine and dangerous bully, and weren’t voting for him.

Without them, he won’t just lose on November 8, he will be devastated, and the Republican Party’s other candidates with him.  Without them, the Democratic Party must take control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and many of the State legislatures and Governorships that are up for election on the same day.

He is indeed a narcissistic libertine; he has certainly previously supported abortion rights; he’s a very recent and probably temporary convert to this kind of conservative agenda, and it has come at the cost of keeping the True Donald in the public eye.  At the end, lacking the courage of his own convictions, he’s prepared to adopt someone else’s.

His mealy-mouthed, half-unsaid, half-demand that a Supreme Court appointed by him should reverse Roe v. Wade, the most important Court decision about reproductive rights and obligations in US history, will have satisfied only the so-called right-to-life movement.  He lacked the courage to unequivocally say he wanted it overturned … he took the coward’s approach of trying to conceal the promises he’s made to the Evangelical Christian Right.

There was a flash or two of the Real Donald, the bully strip-mining the hurt and pain of communities outside the economic and social elites: he’s contemplating refusing to concede defeat if he loses, suggesting fraud on a massive scale, and implicitly threatening to use his campaign to destabilise Clinton’s legitimacy, and the legitimacy of the electoral system, beyond Election Day*.

Before the debate, Trump’s surrogates and advocates talked about him pivoting his campaign, away from the confused melange of messages past, and towards a “Drain the Washington Swamp” theme.  This debate performance, in contrast, was a pivot towards trying to save the down-ticket Republicans from the expected Clinton coat-tails.

 

Ethical Consulting Services partner Mike Smith is embedded within the US Presidential campaign, until US election day on 8 November.

 

  • The next day, appreciating the furore, and harm to his aspirations, this had caused, he issues a typically weaselly non-retraction that he’ll claim as a retraction when convenient.

 

 

Ethical Consulting: 612ABC this Thursday

hill-and-donIf all goes to plan, Mike Smith from Ethical Consulting Services will be live on Steve Austin’s Morning Program at about 10.30 am on Thursday 19 October, on 612 ABC Brisbane local radio.

Mike is embedded within the US Presidential campaign, until US election day on 8 November. and has been blogging about the campaign since early October.

 

 

 

US Elections – Explained, Sort Of

hill-and-donWhile Mike from Ethical Consulting Services is embedded in the US Presidential election campaign, he’s found a few articles that explain some of what’s going on.

Some of these might interest you, but feel free to suggest interesting articles of your own!

If you want some background on what’s going on this election cycle, try this article.

On the major differences between US elections and Australian Elections, try this one.

For a discussion about the impact of voluntary voting on US elections, this might be useful.

And here’s a summary of what it mans to have to rebuild a US Presidential campaign machine very four years.

 

 

 

US Elections – Hillary’s Coat-Tails?

hillary_clintonThe best evaluation of US Presidential Election polling says* Hillary Clinton is heading for a very solid win, possibly bigger than that of Barack Obama – that’s Nate Silver’s very credible blog at http://fivethirtyeight.com/politics/.

Most US voters tend to vote a Party’s ticket on election day – that is, they choose who they’re voting for as President, then follow that Party’s ticket in the House of Representatives, the Senate, State Governor and legislature ballots, and further down the ticket – all elected on the same day.

This tendency to vote for a Party’s ticket is important because it means a strong showing by a Presidential candidate can help their Party achieve control of Federal and State Governments – and, conversely, a weak showing can harm a Party’s chances of power at other levels of Government.

That’s one of the reasons we can see many Republican candidates distancing themselves from Donald Trump right now – they’re judging Trump will do badly on Election Day 8 November, and that if they put distance between themselves and him it might make their job of re-election or election easier.  On the other hand, some Republican down-ballot candidates have a dilemma – they feel they need Trump’s supporters, to get over the line.

This summary from fivethirtyeight suggests the distancing strategy has been working: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/senate-update-clinton-is-surging-but-down-ballot-democrats-are-losing-ground/ but on the other hand, the chances of the of the Democratic Party having a majority of the Senate has been increasing rapidly* since 9 October http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-election-forecast/senate/?ex_cid=2016-forecast.

If Hillary’s support continues to grow as it has in the first weeks of October, the Democratic Party’s strategy – and possibly hers as well – will turn from simply defending her Presidential candidacy, to trying to use the comparative strength of her polling, and the obverse rejection of Trump, to build Democrat prospects of controlling both Houses of their Congress, more Governorships and more state legislatures.

The message nationally will become “Hillary needs a Democrat House/Senate to support her program and get Washington out of the Republicans’ gridlock” or similar.  Less clunky and more smooth than my formulation, I’m sure.  On the ground in the campaign, we’re starting to see that message making its way into the media.

If you start to observe that kind of message coming from the Democratic Party and its candidates with any consistency, you can be sure they’ve become very confident Hillary will win comfortably, and they want to maximise the coat-tail effect.

 

* As at the date of writing, October 16, 2016, anyway.

 

(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – is embedded in the US Presidential campaign, until Election Day 8 November.)

 

 

 

US Elections – Ethical Media Tarts?

hill-and-donFriday 14 November’s Today Extra program, on Channel 9* are expected to discuss Ethical Consulting’s Mike Smith’s trip into the heart of the US Presidential campaign, at around 9.20 am.

His campaigning activities have been reported on the ABC News website, here http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-11/brisbane-man-heads-to-the-us-to-volunteer-for-hillary-clinton/7921192.  Some of the comments on social media have been … interesting!

It follows Mike’s interview with Steve Austin on the 612 ABC Morning program on 5 October here, http://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/peqQVbgj1Q (this link expires a week after posting, apparently!).

Mike will be exploring Hillary Clinton’s campaign from the inside, and exploring the Presidential campaign from that perspective, up until US Election Day on Tuesday 8 November.

 

* Sadly not able to be watched outside Australia!

 

 

 

US Elections – New Every 4 Years

hill-and-donThey completely dissolve and re-form their Presidential campaigns every four years in the US, while in Australia the campaign machinery and personnel continue from one election cycle to another* – this is one of the big differences between Australian and US Election Campaigns.

This system in the US arises in large part because the Presidential campaign is so much a construct of the candidate, rather than the Party – based around the style and wishes of each individual candidate.

The downside of this system is the need to rebuild completely, and the capacity of a campaign to have to relearn hard lessons learned by previous campaigns.  I’ve seen that happen – one candidate’s campaign, four years after some inspired organising, had quite forgotten how to manage a particular and important aspect of campaigning.

Another downside is that campaigns have to re-learn the local terrain and quirks, and consultants have to be re-inducted all over again.

And it also builds a resentment amongst locals, that the Presidential campaign has come in over the top of them, and taken over their turf, again, without seeming interested in local knowledge, or employing locals.

There are two big upsides, though:

  1. a complete rebuild every four years clears away the bad habits of the past, makes it easier to innovate, and reduces the desire to prosecute the battles of the last political war, and
  2. Presidential candidates get an opportunity to build the campaign which best reflects their values, strategies and interests – and consistency between campaign and candidate brand is very important!

So, the feel is very different from Australia, and it’s the same with both major Parties.

Better or worse than Australia?  Maybe, on this issue, it’s simply different.

 

(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from mid-October: this year, US election day is 8 November.)

 

* With, in Australia, some uptake of new technology and some staff turnover, of course.