The Stumped Election: Fear vs Opportunity

As you should know by now, logic has very little to do with how we make decisions, and now that the general election has been settled, we can see where it’s headed, and it’s headed just in the direction I expected it would.

This is an election about fear vs. opportunity.

Trump didn’t have a good month of June. Let’s just get that out of the way. Though you’ve seen a lot of victories in my week-by-week analysis, they were mostly small ones in the face of larger defeats.

Adapted from here.

Some of you have asked me recently “what does Trump need to do to win” in November. My short answer, as elaborated on in Stumped, was that he needs to make people less afraid of him:

These projections of course assume a few things – firstly, that Trump has no massive gaffe. This will likely not be the case, based on the way Trump has run his campaign thus far, deflecting all criticism. The second assumption is that Trump will find a way to alleviate the fear that many feel of him. Trump’s biggest weakness, to quote Scott Adams, is that “he scares half the country.” This is absolutely true, and there are some signs that some of the crossover votes in the primaries from independents and Democrats on the Republican ballot have been from those who are scared of him and are voting against him. Though this is likely a relatively small problem, as those open and mixed primaries are where he has tended to do best, it could pose a significant threat in the general election. If Trump doesn’t find a way to pivot and calm the fears of those afraid of him, he will absolutely have a tougher time winning the general election and may well lose it, and lose it big, despite his great sales skills and the ongoing popular revolt.

I wrote this passage in March, and now some months have passed where I think we can reflect back on what’s occurred.

One thing you need to recognize about power and persuasion is that the game isn’t static, to quote Mike Cernovich. It’s always changing. This was the basis behind Robert Greene’s 48th law of power (assume formlessness).

Think about all those times you seemed to hit it off with a girl and then nothing happens afterward or how you were on the verge of converting a sale, only to have your prospect drop out at the last minute.

Moods can change in a snap. These emotional states are what you need to work on to convert your sales.

A new (national) Quinnipiac poll just came out today. Though it shows Clinton and Trump basically tied, there were some interesting breakdowns that I want to elaborate on.

American voters say 58 – 33 percent that Clinton is better prepared to be president than Trump; 53 – 33 percent that she is more intelligent and 46 – 37 percent that she has higher moral standards. But voters say 45 – 37 percent that Trump is more honest and trustworthy and 49 – 43 percent that he is a stronger leader.

Looking at who would best handle important issues, American voters say:

  • 52 – 40 percent that Trump would be better creating jobs;
  • 50 – 45 percent that Clinton would be better handling immigration;
  • 52 – 39 percent that Trump would be more effective handling ISIS;
  • 51 – 42 percent that Clinton would better respond to an international crisis;
  • 46 percent would trust Clinton more on sending U.S. troops overseas, while 44 percent would trust Trump more;
  • 54 – 35 percent would trust Clinton more to make the right decisions regarding nuclear weapons;
  • 46 – 43 percent that Clinton would do a better job getting things done in Washington.

In short, this election is about fear vs. opportunity. Trump = jobs = OPPORTUNITY. Hillary = international crisis/nukes = FEAR.

While there’s some overlap, like getting things done in Washington and ISIS, the numbers generally bear out that Hillary is the candidate you seek safety and certainty with while Trump is the one you go to for change and new opportunities, which is what he’s built his campaign around, most notably by his slogan.

And in terms of emotional motivators, fear generally trumps (no pun intended) opportunity, in the words of Scott Adams.

Don’t think so? How many times did you pussy out of approaching a girl? How many times did you not take a risk? Compare that to the number of times you did take a risk, and you probably chose not to more times than you chose to act.

Humans are generally risk-averse.

My confidence in Trump has dropped in the past few weeks, which may surprise you. While some actions such as his Hillary speech last week were good, the stage is bigger than just him. The past few national polls haven’t been as good for him as this one today. Scott Adams has a post worth reading, mentioning that Hillary’s side has successfully made Trump seem to be a “crazy racist.” While “racist” is overdone to death these days, the combination of crazy + racist = “a lethal persuasion cocktail.” Hist post can be found here.

In terms of fear, that’s a significant label.

Donald Trump June 2016 Persuasion Stumped

I’ll explain a few reasons why I think Trump’s generally had a bad June, winning small battles but losing bigger ones:

1. The Judge Curiel thing, which I said was a mistake all the way back in week 4 when he first said it, was more damaging than I initially realized. One thing I mentioned in Stumped was the primacy and recency biases of memory. These biases are basically the impetus that people put on the first and most recent pieces of information they hear on something. I mentioned that because of the “Mexicans are rapists” comment from his announcement speech, his campaign would be dogged with accusations of bigotry (due to the primacy effect, as it was at his campaign announcement speech – i.e.: the beginning, the first thing you heard). Despite this, I said, Trump had enough time to swing to a general election mode and have the recency effect gradually weaken those accusations. Instead, the Judge Curiel attack basically acted as a primacy effect because it occurred at the same time the general election was beginning to get underway. This was a primer for further confirmation bias.

2. The way he handled the Orlando shooting seems to have backfired. We should know for certain by the conventions, but certain factors weighed against him.

– The “Muslim ban” probably made it too easy for others to view him as “crazy racist.”
– Tweeting “appreciate the congrats” was a really stupid thing to do.

3. While Hillary Clinton didn’t exactly handle the Orlando shooting well either (her tweet about “waking up to hear” was self-tarring to her personal brand and she was basically forced into Trump’s frame of admitting that Islam has an undue influence on terrorism), the media was on her side.

This is something Trump will have to take into account going forward, and something I probably overlooked. He’s not in a primary where he can just use his quantum powers to deny the existence of his opponents anymore. Hillary Clinton is too strong for that. Chapter 7 of Stumped may not have entirely arrived yet, which emphasizes that the influence of established media outlets is declining. While it is, it’s still enough to persuade a critical number of other people.

In short, Hillary Clinton and her campaign continue to be abysmal at persuasion, but Trump isn’t just up against Hillary Clinton. He’s up against the entire establishment media-academic-political complex, and his quantum reality warping powers aren’t as potent as they were in the primaries.

Because of his errors in the wake of Orlando and the entire weight of the establishment against him, I’m not sure terrorism is a winning issue for him anymore, even though Quinnipiac shows him with a 10 point lead in handling ISIS.

But then again, I don’t know for sure. We’re just going to have to wait and see.

4. His reaction to yesterday’s Istanbul attack was to talk about waterboarding and such things again. I don’t think this is entirely the message he needs for the general election and it can once again confirm the “crazy” part of the “crazy racist” fear factor label.

5. Trump’s delivery style based on his vocal tones, at least in my opinion, make it easier for some people to be afraid of him. It’s charismatic, but can easily be polarizing. Entirely irrational and entirely significant.

6. The recent spate of polls were bad for Trump which creates a snowball effect because of the social proof. It was why Trump constantly cited his poll numbers during the primary. Remember, people are followers. It makes it seem like “Trump is doing bad” and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So is it all bad news for Trump?

Not quite.

1. Firstly, June was the month Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination, which will have a natural effect to push her up, just like May was the month Trump clinched the Republican nomination, which in turn, pushed him up.

2. June’s polls are notoriously unpredictive. February’s are more predictive. Shit doesn’t really start to get real until after the conventions and the full ticket is announced. Trump can pick a VP that can help to balance him.

3. Firing Corey Lewandowski and putting Manafort in charge was a smart decision.

4. Despite all of this, Trump is still basically tied in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, which should be strong states for his offer. He’s up in bellwether counties of Pennsylvania and Ohio and basically tied in Florida’s. If he wins all three of those states, it’s over.

5. Brexit was a popular revolt fully manifesting itself, which included a preference cascade that wasn’t predicted by either the polls or the bookies, which were certain Remain was going to win. It’s eminently possible that such a cascade could occur here. Even the polling is similar. In Brexit, opportunity trumped fear (which was, coincidentally, the code for the Remain campaign, which called its strategy “Project Fear”).

6. To further point #5, Bloomberg found last week that 40% of Sanders supporters still say they won’t support Hillary. MSNBC reported something smaller – 10%.

If this holds True, she’s in trouble to deep trouble.

7. Trump and Clinton, says Quinnipiac, are now basically tied in their unfavorability ratings, for what those are worth:

Both top candidates get negative favorability ratings, 34 – 57 percent for Trump and 37 – 57 percent for Clinton.

8. Trump probably knows the recency effect and is saving his biggest bombs for later. Scott Adams expects him to do a speech addressing the “crazy racist” label directly. We’ll see.

So, to repeat, what does he need to do to win, you ask?

With Manafort in charge, some adjustments can be made, and they need to be made. Fear beat opportunity in June, and Trump needs to make people less afraid of him, and quickly. That probably means doing what Scott Adams suggested, trying to make his vocal delivery style a bit less chaotic but still high energy and enthusiastic, and further emphasizing how he loves and wants to protect and make prosperous ALL Americans and not giving away the store with globalism (he’s started this, but it needs to be more vocal, visual, and consistent, and there is a lot of material to work with). And he needs to pick a VP that calms fears.

In short, all the primary shit needs to go. He’s been transitioning from primary to general mode, unfortunately for him, a month later than he should have.

I’m analyzing all of this through the lens of Stumped, and it’ll make it easier for you to see patterns of power and persuasion.