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There was great gnashing of teeth and rending of garments at the end of the last election night as millions of Americans realized Donald Trump had become the 45th President of the United States. Quite frankly, it's not easy for me to type those words. But, nevertheless, Trump is it and since November 9th, we have been looking for the reason he won. There have been many scapegoats offered, but none have felt "right" or provided the sense of closure that we've needed.
The truth is the Democrats and the Clinton campaign were outclassed by the Trump campaign. The sooner we embrace this reality, the sooner we can move forward and make the changes we need to win future elections. The Democrats need to focus on candidates, messaging and technology; in all three of these areas we were greatly deficit in the last election.
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the least favorite candidates in the history of elections. Their approval ratings were abominable and neither one of them should have come out victorious. How then did, from the fields of candidates put forward by the respective parties (3 for Democrats, 17 for Republicans) these two emerge to the top. As one comedian has put it: 300 million people in the United States and these two are the best we could do?
On the Democratic side, I have surmised we were looking not for an election, but a coronation. After the historic presidency of Barack Obama - historic because he was the first black president - the Democrats were looking for the next great historic breakthrough. Many of my friends and colleagues said to me, "We need a woman as President." I agreed, but countered we needed the right woman to be president. Hillary, as the polls told us going into the race, was not the right woman.
I know this is hard for many of my Democratic friends to hear, especially those who were "with her" from the very beginning. What Clinton offered was more of the same; a lot more of the same. A major part of Trump's victory lies in his "outsider" and "drain the swamp" message - regardless of whether he actually is an outsider or if he will drain the swamp. Hillary was the 2016 epitome of the "insider" and people were not ready to hear more of the same.
Our messaging as Democrats was off, too. We ignored those voters who were excited by President Obama. Over the course of those eight years, we took them for granted and didn't speak to their issues - the policies which mattered to them most. We expected them to show up at the polls because they had, for the last eight years, supported Obama. This was a big mistake.
The hardest lesson learned on election night was the exodus of rust belt voters to the Trump campaign or the fact they stayed home and didn't bother to vote. We needed to speak to their issues and make them feel part of the process. We didn't. Mostly we ignored them based on their demographics and a misguided strategy of relying on the past to predict future outcomes. Sensing this, those voters stayed home and didn't bother to support someone who didn't show she cared.
George Lakoff, a linguist and cognitive scientist from UC Berkeley, has written an election post-mortum on the Democrats messaging and it reveals our weaknesses. We failed by not making our messages our own and instead repeated the very messages Trump and his team wanted to get out to the voters. You can get the full, expert explanation in his blog piece, but essentially Lakoff demonstrates this point through making us understand how the brain processes thoughts and how, when repeated, the thought becomes more cemented in our brains.
Democrats need to be better as messaging to our voters and to our persuadable voters. When we are strong in our messaging - and tailoring that message to our target voters - we can win elections and defeat the extreme messaging from the other side.
For example, when we speak to voters about climate change, almost immediately, someone from the other side reverts to calling it "global warming" and then will make a joke about calling something "warming" when there is 15 feet of snow on the ground in the Northeast. As Democrats, we instinctively want to explain the science about how it's not "warming" and "warming" has nothing to do with change and we've already repeated their message of calling it "warming" twice.
Instead we can offer an example, say, of a pendulum. The pendulum can be the climate (using our words) and the swinging of the pendulum represents the changes (again our word) from hot (at one extreme) to cold (the other extreme). And, like a pendulum, when the climate gets extremely hot, the natural consequence is for it to swing to be extremely cold. And, because the climate is swinging hotter and hotter every summer, the climate becomes colder and colder in the winter. Never once using "global" or "warming" and drilling in our message, not theirs.
These changes of candidates and messaging are good, but without knowing to whom to present these two pieces, they really don't matter much. And it is exactly here where the Trump campaign excelled this election.
An article published in a German magazine, and then translated by a small website in the US, is a chilling look at where election technology is headed and how the Trump campaign won big. The article "Trump Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself" gives a detailed explanation of how the campaign used technology to win the election. The article has since been taken down because the website Vice asked them to do so. The link above goes to the story posted on Vice.com.
In short, the article tells of researchers who, with the help of people who took an online personality quiz through Facebook and other websites, garnered enough information from the subjects' Facebook "likes" and the Facebook information of all their collective friends, and are now able to accurately predict a lot of very specific information about pretty much everyone.
Before I go into anymore on this, please take a few minutes and watch the presentation of this technology by the CEO of Cambridge Analytica - the company which turned this information into a big data treasure trove - about how his company was able to turn the Ted Cruz campaign around to become the only viable competition to Trump and, how subsequently, as he says, of the two candidates left in the campaign, "only one is using this technology."
Faced with this knowledge - and we should all know this - Democrats have a lot of catching up to do, especially if we want to win elections moving forward. We either need to embrace this company and exploit their data, or we need to enhance our data to the point we can compete. Whatever happens going forward, the face of campaigning has changed in a drastic way. Politics as usual has no meaning anymore and we need to find out exactly what it will mean in the future.
Is technology the answer? No. Democrats can't win with technology alone. Democrats need a candidate who represents broad demographic ideals and Democrats need a message that resonates with the base and with those voters who are persuadable. Without all three of these key areas covered, Democrats stand to sit out policy making decisions for the foreseeable future.
Photo credit: rollingstone.com
All opinions expressed are those of Don Greene and not necessarily his employer.