Let me start by being totally transparent; I voted for Hillary Clinton. I wasn’t gung-ho for Clinton, but liked her more and more as time went on. Mostly, I didn’t think that Donald Trump had the knowledge, temperament, values, and innate desire to serve others that’s required to be a good president. Having said that, I hope that Trump is a good president who leads in a more inclusive and compassionate way than what we saw during the campaign.
As I look back at the entire election season, here are some of the things that I learned:
- Trump is a world-class framer. When Trump labelled Clinton “Crooked Hillary,” he took advantage of a human bias called the framing effect. By establishing that “nickname,” Trump was able to shift how people reacted to information about and from Clinton. Any news on her emails reinforced the “crookedness” and any of her arguments against Trump would be discounted. Trump did the same thing with “biased media” which helped to dissipate bad press, and “locker room talk” to change how people felt about vulgar language.
- You need to stand for something positive. Clinton never established a compelling, positive vision for her candidacy. Her message seemed to be a combination of her legacy of service, strong experience, liberal principles, and pointing out Trump’s flaws. She never gave non-committed voters a reason to choose her. Trump on the other hand, was able to communicate a positive vision of the country being great again through a masterful approach of painting a very dire picture of the current situation (framing again). I actually think Clinton’s final set of negative ads hurt her, as they didn’t introduce anything new or provide a positive reason for people to select her, and played into Trump’s framing (again) of the “establishment” rigging the system. Clinton needed to be more aspirational, even at the expense of being less factual.
- Clinton suffered from an image problem. I can understand how people may not like Clinton or her political views, but there were a lot of people I know (and others across the country) who said they hated her. Every explanation that I’ve heard from those people has been based on a superficial understanding of her. Their pre-conceived dis-like was reinforced by an amplification of Clinton’s “issues.” As you recall, there’s the tragedy at Benghazi (many Republican-lead investigations couldn’t find evidence of fault), her email situation (which, at worst, was a mistake driven by her desire to do her job more effectively), and the Clinton Foundation (where there is no evidence of wrong doing, but lots of evidence that the foundation does great work). Even the collective weight of these “issues” don’t seem strong enough to create such powerful negative feelings towards Clinton. As I mentioned, my respect for Clinton increased as I learned more about her during the election. She’s dedicated her entire adult life to social causes, which is driven by her deep Methodist faith. Add to this her strong experience as a senator of NY and Secretary of State (even Trump praised her in the past), and it’s hard to truly dislike her. But many do. Unfortunately, Clinton’s public persona was so stiff that her issues “stuck” and many people didn’t really get to know her underlying passion as a committed public servant.
- This was not an easy election to predict. If you’re looking for me to provide insights on what went wrong in all of the polling projections, sorry. I don’t have specific answers. This was a particularly hard year to predict the outcome, given the changing pattern of voters, and the fact that Trump was a very, very unconventional candidate. It’s almost impossible to build an accurate model when you can’t test it or fine-tune it with data from a similar historical environment. We actually collected a large dataset of presidential preferences (10K consumers), but I resisted my urge to forecast the results. I would most certainly have been wrong as well.
- Truthfulness is not the same as honesty. By any objective measure, Trump has told many more mis-truths during the campaign than did Clinton. Yet polls regularly found that Trump earned higher ratings than Clinton for being honest and trustworthy. This confused me until I heard a number of interviews with Trump supporters. People weren’t gauging the truthfulness of the candidates, they were reacting to their apparent authenticity. Even if Trump said something that was not true, he appeared to be answering it authentically, which helped him appear to be more honest than Clinton. The content from the candidates was often secondary to how they were delivering the message.
- We’re a divided nation, but it isn’t about wealth. Our country has a growing divide between the rich and the poor, as the country’s wealth becomes more concentrated with the “top 1%.” When our country prospers, the wealthy get wealthier and everyone else stagnates. It turns out, however, that wealth was not the key divide of this election. The larger factor was the difference between urban and rural Americans. These groups tend to have quite different views on a wide range of topics, including immigration, global trade, gun control, and the opportunity of their families to achieve the American dream. Rural citizens are more likely to believe that they have been neglected by a system that is not addressing their needs and desires, and it’s not providing good opportunities for their children. This is where Trump’s message of change (“Drain the Swamp”) really resonated.
- I appreciate the electoral college. Some people are upset that Trump was elected, even though Clinton received more of the popular vote. It’s because of the electoral college, and I like the system. Rather than allowing a candidate to become president by dominating a very narrow part of our county, the electoral college forces candidates to have a broader appeal. It puts more of the states “into play” during the election, which makes more of our citizens part of the process.
- Michelle Obama is a national treasure. Over the last several years, I have enjoyed hearing Michelle Obama’s speeches. At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, I was truly moved when FLOTUS said this about POTUS “And he believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” During this year’s DNC, she inspired us with “when they go low, we go high” and then she had one of the most powerful speeches of the year in New Hampshire when she responded to Trump’s horrible comments about women. She’s a totally class act, and I hope she continues to be a public figure.
- I want Kellyanne Conway on my team. Every time Trump found himself in a negative situation, his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway would show up on TV with a clear and focused explanation. She was coherent, convincing, and maintained a very approachable style. She seemed very reasonable, even when I (often) totally disagreed with her. She was a critical asset for this campaign. If I were to ever run for office, she’d be one of the first people I’d look to recruit.
- Positivity really, really matters. Like many other Americans, I was very disappointed with the results of the election. Rather than lamenting on what could/should have happened or obsessing abut the damage that Trump may cause, I’m choosing to be positive. I appreciate the strength of our democracy and the resilience of our people. I marvel at the statesmanship of president Obama as he transitions leadership of this great nation to a person who he does not seem to like. My opinion of Trump hasn’t changed, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt moving forward. I’m hopeful that our collection of public officials will work together to close the divide amongst us, and not just continue to spread us apart.
The bottom line: I hope to be more inspired in 2020.