How NOT to lose an election
DONALD Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections on Nov 8 marks the triumph of the neglected white blue-collar workers over the disconnected elite.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s failure to become the first woman US president is a textbook case of what not to do – particularly for Malaysian politicians in the forthcoming 14th general election (GE14).
Before polling day, opinion polls consistently predicted Clinton would occupy the White House. Her unexpected defeat may be due largely to three factors – her longstanding unpopularity, a gross misreading of US voters’ mood and wrong campaign strategy.
Given the gulf between Clinton’s resume as a New York senator and secretary of state against Trump’s career as a talk show host, a businessman made bankrupt four times as well as his misogynist and racist stance, focusing on personalities may have seemed a no-brainer.
This election, however, wasn’t about electing the wisest person as a leader. American voters were focused laser-like on pocket-book issues. Furthermore, by demonising Trump, Clinton invited retaliatory personal attacks, an area of vulnerability. She has annually ranked among the least-liked politician on the national stage since she was the first lady. In recent years, her low favourability was matched only by Donald Trump, Fredrik De Boer wrote in The Washington Post’s wonkblog.
Clinton’s most memorable gaffe was describing half of Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables”, a remark that highlighted her contempt for the blue-collar working class.
Clinton also misread the mood of voters. Believing many Americans were happy with the recovery in the US economy, she promised to continue Obama’s policies at a time when voters were looking for change. This was a grievous mistake. Exit polls show an overwhelming 67% of white voters (men and women) with no college degree voted for Trump compared with a paltry 28% who backed Clinton – a 39 percentage point gap and the largest among any candidate in exit polls since 1980, Pew Research suggests.
Half of voters said the economy was the most important issue in their decision compared with 14% for immigration, Jim Tankersley wrote in The Washington Post Wonkblog.
“(Voters) voted for (Trump) out of frustration and anger – and also out of hope that he would bring change,” Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren noted.
Census data analysed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show from 1975 to 2014, after adjusting for inflation, white male workers without college degrees suffered an erosion of 20% in their median incomes. Between 2007 and 2014, their incomes fell by 14%.
Although their incomes rose 6% last year on the back of an improved US economy and a tighter labour market, this was insufficient to make up prior years’ losses.
Whites without a college degree – men and women – made up onethird of the 2016 electorate. This cohort provided the bedrock of Trump’s victories across the Rust belt, a blowout win in Ohio and stunning upsets in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Tankersley added.
Although an overwhelming 88% of blacks, 65% of Hispanics/Latinos and the same proportion of Asians cast their votes for Clinton, support from racial minorities wasn’t sufficient to offset the massive white blue-collar vote for Trump.
Clinton claimed FBI director James Comey’s decision to reinvestigate her use of a private email server 11 days before polling effectively derailed her momentum towards victory. Some supporters acknowledged the nub of the problem was her failure to deal with this issue decisively when it first surfaced.
“(Clinton) should’ve apologised for that earlier, and people would have understood. We all make mistakes. That’s why pencils have erasers,” Clinton supporter and a state senator Lou D’Allesandro suggested.
Equally noteworthy, the US presidential election highlighted the limits of negative advertisements. While personal invective may diminish support for the target, negative advertisements can’t persuade voters to cast their ballots for the sponsor, particularly one with significant trust issues.
Although full spending reports haven’t been submitted, assuming both candidates spent all that they raised, as at Oct 28 this year, Clinton’s war chest totalled an astronomical US$687 million, more than double Trump’s US$307 million.
Despite blanketing six states – Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Iowa – with 299,067 ads supporting Clinton compared with 89,995 ads for Trump, the former secretary of state lost all states except Nevada, Ken Kurson of the Observer noted.
“Money can’t buy love, it can’t buy votes. All it can do is help deliver a message. The voters didn’t want what Clinton offered,” David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, said.
Like Clinton, Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition benefits from a friendly print media and a reportedly sizeable war chest. However, the US presidential election suggests the ability of social media to offset these advantages could be considerable.
In GE14, will change be the main mantra for voters?