Hillary Clinton is fighting an old style campaign. She needs a new dynamic, one obsessed with greater turnout partly by targeting neglected demographics, a task which thanks to technology is much easier now. Just as Obama’s use of social media was so successful in 2012, ferreting out specific demographics and tailoring outreaches to them is crucial in 2016.
The usual presidential election chess match between two competing ideologies pitched at the voters’ rational self interest is usually a larger competition between divergent worlds views via policy. This time though, the dynamics are different. What little we know of whatever constitutes Trump’s policies is secondary to the candidate’s temperament and notions of identity, either tribal or philosophical; “Identity politics” as it is called. The very fact his history, personality, and rants, have not sunk his campaign proves what we know; this is a battle more for the hearts than the minds than in prior elections.
A popular current analysis involves theories about the appeal of the authoritarian personality overlaid with the notion of humans being strong reciprocators and altruistic punishers. Eric Beinhocker explores this in the context of Brexit in The Atlantic recently but it applies equally to Trump.
…the appeal of the authoritarian personality overlaid with the notion of humans being strong reciprocators and altruistic punishers.
It postulates that the desire to punish wrongdoers (in this case, Trump’s various scapegoats) even to one’sown detriment is greater than the individual’s self interest.
A combination of these factors call into question the Hillary campaign’s dynamic of focusing (at the exclusion of more profitable endeavors) on the back and forth of chess; policy arguments, logic,and some name calling which are of limited use. It’s almost as if Hillary is turning up to play chess and Trump kicks the table over. His unpredictable rage fueled dynamic is his brand. You can’t argue against rage. His success, all (mainly negative) emotion, has allowed him to become the nominee with almost no real policies. If this is the case, the current Hillary campaign’s strategy can onlybe of limited effect. Kicking over the table yelling is not Hillary’s style, nor is it the style of US politics. But it has been extremely effective for Trump. Received wisdom says this rage is greatest in older white men in the face of economic dislocation and the enormous cultural shifts of recent years. But anger isn’t restricted to that demographic; anger is human.
Secondary to and more worrying than the Rage Factor is that a large part of the right’s electoral strategy over the past two decades has been the active disenfranchisement of demographics hostile to their ideology. Republicans understand this fact better than anyone; witness their nationally coordinated disenfranchisement campaign, particularly against minorities. A pile of voter ID laws, especially in the South, and even the shutting down of many rural ID issuing state offices, are horrible testimony to their mendacious efforts. Do understand the GOP’s strategy is to win by disenfranchising demographics hostile to them, particularly in the South. To quote The Family Guy on Florida; “Black votes go straight into the trash there” – a reference to the 2000 election.
Faced with these two problems – what is Hillary’s campaign to do?
Fortunately she has numbers on her side – with Trump’s disapproval ratings being so high, her foremost action must – must – be greater enfranchisement and concentration on getting as many people to vote as possible. Her new mobilization campaign this week in Cleveland is great, but insufficient. The bet here is that demographically fewer voters are amenable to The Rage so will outnumber the angry folks. That’s before we even calculate the scape-goated victims of his rage.
Brexit is a good, but terrifying corollary; Even the Brexiteers admit 52% of the British population didn’t want to leave the EU, but 52% of voters who turned up to vote did. A shockingly large number of “Remain” people just didn’t take the threat of the referendum seriously; unable to imagine the unimaginable. So they happily stayed home. That could be a danger here if Trump’s downward spiral continues and too many secure Democrats don’t bother to turn up on the day to actually vote against him; “I don’t have to bother voting, we as a society aren’t so crazy as to elect him.”
In the age of big data … identifying and communicating with hidden minorities should be the priority.
But our dilemma is slightly different as we are approaching a dual choice we have been trained to understand; a choice between two clear and possible options, rather than some abstract unthinkable event like Brexit. We have been taught that staying home can result in a Republican presidency by Gore’s win of the popular vote and Obama’s win over Romney being much more dramatic in the overall population than those who did turn up to the polls.
One would think those two lessons alone, as well as the socio-economic factors that caused Brexit would be writing on the wall writ large enough for the Hillary campaign to devote a great deal more effort into enfranchisement here. Not just of the Democratic base, but of yet untargeted “natural” Democrats.
One neglected demographic which skews very heavily Democrat areex-felons who can vote but think they can’t. Disenfranchised felons represent 2.5% of the voting population. Former felons who can vote (which is most of them overall) who currently believe they can’t are the targets for outreach here, probably from the party rather than campaign to prevent “Crooked Hillary and her crooked voters” becoming the narrative. A key part of this education is just telling people how the felony bars are set up where they live. Such large scale ads, or a more precise direct campaign would be better value for money than continuing the current battle for the hearts and minds of mythical “undecideds”.
Even without the help of gubernatorial mass re-enfranchisement for felons like (now disputed) Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s in Virginia in 2014, few people the felony bar applies to (or doesn’t) have any idea of their status. The actual laws vary enormously state by state making a crazy quilt of retributive justice. At one end, Maine and Vermont, even currently imprisoned citizens can vote, with all other states being variously more restrictive. The rules change often, but voters don’t know that. As criminal defense attorney a decade ago – none of my clients had a clue whether they could vote or not – most assumed not, even though they could once their probation was completed. Because right now their default is usually “I can’t vote.” So they don’t. Similarly, ignorance regarding the possibility and philosophy of postal voting only serves to hobble Democrat efforts. Yet there are no efforts from the Clinton campaign to focus on that dynamic, either.
Finally there are Americans abroad, a group about which, and from whom, we hear almost nothing. There are between 3 and 6 million US citizens resident in foreign countries, again, who trend heavily Democrat. From a Clinton campaign top down view, they can be targeted electronically now. Many feel outside the political maelstrom at home; no dog in this fight, yet they’re still obliged to pay Uncle Sam taxes, still register their children as US citizens, and many hope to return home one day. Additionally, unlike any other country, when you live outside the United States, America has a way of coming to you. Our economic, cultural, and military power ensure that. And they have to get sick of random people in their exile asking them “What about Trump?” – apparently often – as if they’re ambassadors. It shouldn’t be left to curious foreigners alone to spur overseas Americans into action.
In the age of big data and incredible outreach possibilities both of traditional and social media, identifying and communicating with these hidden minorities should be the priority. They are rich sources of Democrat votes so far ignored by the this campaign in favor of a broader traditional battle. Focusing on new – or reenlisted voters within these left of center demographics is far more profitable thanplaying chess on a kicked over board.
Time is wasting. Americans abroad, or potential postal voters here can’t decide to vote close to the election – they have to vote or arrange to in advance so require a lead time ahead of the election which looms ever closer.
If, as the New York Times recently put it national “suicide by Trump” is to be avoided, an emphasis must be on spending Democrat funds reaching every friendly demographic and getting it to the polls.
Originally Published: 2 Aug, 2016
Original Publisher: The Moderate Voice original post