Throughout the campaigns President Elect Trump was clearly aware that content is king and used his extensive media experience and shocking rhetoric to dominate every news cycle. In June this year I predicted that this capability would be a major factor come election day, and indeed it was. I also gave a brief run down of other US presidents that applied communication strategies that leveraged on the new media of their times to outsmart their opponents and win the ultimate prize. This was a prediction that went against liberal media’s view and the numerous opinion polls, but the facts were starting us right in the face.
In September I wrote another article where I discussed the presidential debates and the possible outcomes of these based on the performance expectations set by each campaign team. Hillary’s expectations were set low for the first debate which worked very well in her favor. But when the scandals against Trump erupted a day before the second debate, expectations for his performance, and indeed the entire election, were set at an all time low. I’ve observed this phenomenon around political debates, but not thought it useful for an entire leg of a presidential campaign. The likelihood of a Trump win seemed so improbable after his accusers came out in droves, that all he had to do was have his name on the ballot to have a decent chance; and his campaign team exploited this in the last lap.
There’s nothing like the fear of loosing that can energize passionate supporters and drive them to vote in large numbers. We saw this during both Obama campaigns, and now with the Trump campaign, which was bolstered by the opinion polls throughout the year. We even saw a similar trend during the last elections in Kenya between Uhuru and Raila.
Jumbo sized helpings of humble pie have been served this week, mostly to the research agencies that churned out large doses of data throughout the campaign period, most of it showing Clinton ahead of Trump. However, before we bring out the pitch forks it is important to note that most of their predictions were within the margin of error compared to the outcome of the popular vote. What they didn’t get was the distribution of the vote across the states in order to nail the electoral college vote that determined the winner.
As the research geniuses go through intense reflection, soul-searching and review their take on data reliability and sample biases, I am sure that the global agencies will employ major resources to find out what went wrong this time; and so close after Brexit where the experience with research was relatively the same.
Many local politicians believe that research has the ability to influence voter behavior in that a candidate who appears popular in a study, will attract more voters. In this instance, it was quite the opposite. The research showed Clinton ahead of Trump and it appears that this caused voter apathy among her supporters, lowering the turnout, and it energized Trumps supporters to come out in large numbers to vote in support of their candidate. What is also interesting is that in demonizing both opinion poll results and the liberal media by the Trump camp, the response rate in many surveys were lower than usual especially in the red states and districts. There are reports of instances where respondents would hang up when they realized they were talking to polling companies because they didn’t want to participate in what they believed were faulty surveys.
I even heard about white women polled who said that it was easier to claim the they would vote for Trump when taking to the tape recorder in an automated call, rather than when they were talking to a live interviewer, especially after the media reports around the candidates sexual impropriety. In the coming months we’ll be bombarded by explanations and analysis from the research houses around the glaring differences which will provide great insights for our own politics.
Last week I recommended that significant investments in content are required to generate an ROI (return-on-investment) from your marketing communications activities, and this rings true in business as in politics with a clear example from the Clinton vs. Trump contest for the White House. The ability of your content to connect emotionally with your target audience and anticipate their action in response to this is paramount, and it certainly pays to know what the research is saying as well as what it is not saying.