It’s now been over a month since the election. All the vote totals are in. Now that that data’s in, we can see how it squared up to the model of electoral analysis put together in the chapters of Stumped.
If you haven’t read it, the Stumped model of elections says that the best persuader that tools his game to the proper environment wins the election. Facts don’t matter. The resumes of the candidates don’t matter. Intellect doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is who is best using the tools of persuasion to tap into and further influence the mood of the times. After explaining his game and the mood of the times, the basic prediction in Stumped, published in early May after the Republican primaries ended, was that Donald Trump was far and away more skilled at using the tools of persuasion and also spoke to the times far more potently than Hillary Clinton did. Therefore, he would become the 45th President of the United States.
Here’s what I wrote back then:
I made this prediction by essentially using nine “persuasion triggers,” which the chapters of Stumped outline when discussing the tactics Trump uses.
The six months after publishing Stumped proved to be a massive roller coaster with many twists and turns. It was all too easy to get lost in the horse race as it was ongoing. Things looked good for Donald Trump at some times and horrible for him at others. During each stage of the campaign, both candidates assumed different characters, as if in a play, and this did affect their polling averages, but not enough to put it away for either of them.
As you’re likely well aware, I documented the general election for all of its 27 weeks on The Masculine Epic, and Trump did get hot at just the right time, but the results on November 8th proved the week-by-week race largely secondary, as it ended in a stunner. Almost everyone said he had no chance and ridiculed those that said he did. The New York Times projected that Hillary Clinton had an 85% chance of victory. Ridiculously, The Huffington Post, long a subject of mockery, only added confirmation bias to that disrespect by predicting that Hillary Clinton had a 98% chance of winning. Nate Silver at 538 varied based on the polls, but by November 8th gave her a 72% chance of winning.
Why was Stumped largely right when paragons like Nate Silver were wrong?
To gauge the Stumped model’s success, it’s time to revisit the criteria upon which the chapters in Stumped are based, and how they reflected in previous presidential elections.
1st Trigger: Humans are usually not acting as rational, self-interested agents, but can be influenced by many, often completely irrational factors. Visceral cues are far more potent than rational ones.
In the first place, the campaign started with Donald Trump doing his usual persuasion, while Hillary Clinton was talking about her experience, policies, and facts. By June, her game began to change. Her campaign became less about how experienced she was and more about how scary and racist Donald Trump was, which was the card I expected her to play. Scott Adams repeatedly theorized that Bernie Sanders’ final defeat in the Democratic primaries brought some new “world class” persuaders into the Clinton campaign which it had lacked previously. This was particularly obvious to him after the Republican National Convention, when the Clinton campaign described Donald Trump’s acceptance speech as “dark.” It was a fresh, wide-ranging word, he said, that was deliberately and expertly engineered to produce ominous emotions. Repeating tactics from 1964, Hillary Clinton also tried her hardest to stoke fears of her opponent getting access to the nuclear codes.
And yet, none of these fear tactics ended up sticking. Hillary Clinton was arguably the wrong messenger to deliver them because she had her own visceral problems ranging from perceptions of her corruption to her seeming desire to start World War 3 in Syria, and Donald Trump played them all to the hilt, all the while creating a contrast with a message of opportunity that Hillary Clinton couldn’t campaign on.
In short, Donald Trump campaigned on both fear and opportunity. Hillary Clinton only campaigned on fear, based on the other person, rather than her own alternative positive qualities. As such, her game was arguably less complete.
2nd Trigger:Humans are tribal animals that organize themselves in teams and in/out-groups. In such a structure, the strongest tribal leader, the one who inspires feelings in supporters that they’d want to follow him into battle, will usually have the most alluring leadership appeal. This is a factor closely related to masculinity. Thus, the candidate that can telegraph this strong, often masculine leadership ability will usually win.
There was no question about this one. Donald Trump smashed Hillary. He went to rally after rally in state after state all across the country, energizing his supporters and framing the perfect enemy that he would fight against on their behalf – the corrupt Washington establishment. This attitude was epitomized late in the campaign with the phrase “drain the swamp,” that swamp being a murky, sometimes scary and slimy-sounding thing that he would do battle with. Often times, he would be with his supporters and delivering his message in 5 battleground states a day.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, often retreated for days on end, huddling in private with big donors. The phrase “where’s Hillary?” often trended on social media throughout the campaign, including when she had widened her lead in the polls and should have been out to reinforce those leads. She failed to visit the state of Wisconsin even once after the Democratic National Convention and didn’t take Michigan into account until the very last days of the campaign, despite her proven weakness there in the Democratic primaries. Donald Trump, meanwhile, campaigned vigorously in both states, forging powerful connections with his “America first” messaging and showing the people, to the best extent that he could, that he was worthy of their vote.
To make matters worse, in September, Hillary Clinton made public a speech which she had been giving privately at fundraisers for some time, where she infamously called half of Donald Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables” that were “irredeemable” and “not America.”
In politics, it’s a common rule to never insult your opponent’s voters for a good reason. Donald Trump quickly seized on this and “deplorable” instantly became a call sign for team affiliation, just as Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment had been for Barack Obama’s supporters in 2012. It helped to unite wavering Republicans to Donald Trump’s banner and reinforced the in-group/out-group narrative of “the people vs. the establishment,” with Donald Trump being the champion of the people and Hillary Clinton personifying the establishment. Even when the infamous “pussy tape” came out a couple of weeks later, he refused to bow out and stood triumphantly amongst his supporters, coming back very strongly at the second debate where he dominated Hillary Clinton.
Throughout the entire campaign, Donald Trump created symbols of team affiliation, went everywhere, and fought with everything he had. Hillary Clinton didn’t work nearly as hard. Trump’s scrappy performance reminded me in many respects of Harry Truman’s blistering campaign of 1948, which also ended in a “shocking upset.” I postulated that Donald Trump would outwork and outfight Hillary in a similar fashion.
Third Trigger: Problems arise that people seek answers to, and communications are the key to power. The candidate that dominates the most space on the issues people want solved and the communicational space upon which they are intermediated with will usually win.
This one also wasn’t a contest, though it didn’t appear that way to most at the time. Hillary Clinton outspent her opponent in advertising dollars by a significant amount, but Donald Trump, with less money, still beat her at her own game in traditional advertising. This was because while Hillary Clinton’s ads focused almost entirely on how bad Donald Trump was, Trump’s ads not only accentuated the negative, but highlighted his offer based on simple, memorable, and direct messaging. The end result was that Donald Trump conveyed an articulate, benefit-oriented offer and defined Hillary Clinton’s personal brand while the latter only pointed out obvious mean-spirited things her opponent said in the past. In other words, Trump dominated many issues because he was the only one even talking about them. Hillary Clinton was only talking about Donald Trump to the exclusion of her own issues.
In addition, the Trump campaign largely proved the major hypothesis of Stumped’s seventh chapter, that traditional mass media was losing influence and decentralized social networks were rising in power, to be true. The social media arm of the Trump campaign was far more sophisticated than that of the Clinton campaign. The impact of Trump’s Twitter is infamously well-known, but more quietly, Facebook also proved to be decisive. It not only allowed the campaign to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in a very short period of time, but also served as a rapid test platform for its ads, with tens of thousands of variations tested on any given day. This in turn made for devastatingly efficient filtering, finding what ads people liked the most and allowing those ads to reach more people than the ads of the rival campaign.
In the end, Donald Trump was spending more of his ad money online than the Clinton campaign, and it proved to be far more impactful than traditional television or radio ads. The primary communicational mediums with which people interact have shifted, and the Trump campaign dominated the space where it made the most impact, concentrating forces where they did the most damage, rather than the seemingly broader, shallower strategy pursued by the Clinton campaign.
Fourth Trigger:The candidate who has the strongest offense and the stronger frame to impose his will and deflect criticism will usually win.
This one legitimately surprised me at times, as Hillary Clinton’s frame was often stronger than I gave it credit for. She landed shots against Donald Trump that often led him into traps. These traps made him stray off his core offer and forced him to defend himself instead of attacking her, and they often resulted in a widening polling gap. The most notable instance of this was during the first debate, when Hillary Clinton focused attention on Donald Trump’s business practices and history, most infamously with the former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who was attacked for a week and helped to reinforce the fear card, based on Donald Trump’s “temperament,” that Hillary Clinton and her team had set up against him.
But in each instance, Donald Trump eventually came back, reframing and attacking the continuous steady stream of scandals that leaked out about his opponent. Through his “Crooked Hillary” kill shot, Donald Trump essentially created a very strong frame and kept that theme throughout, while Hillary Clinton floated from one controversy to the next. This tended to let the recency effect erode some of the previous Trump controversies and blunt the impact of Hillary Clinton’s overall messaging while Trump’s central message of his opponent’s corruption kept bearing more and more fruit.
I rate the frame factor as relatively even throughout the campaign. Hillary Clinton being so scandal-ridden ultimately hampered her ability to maintain her own frame and drive counterattacks to a final, decisive conclusion against Donald Trump. Trump, in the meantime, ignored many of his own vulnerabilities in his advertising and still attacked Hillary relentlessly while promoting his own vision.
Fifth Trigger: The more charismatic candidate, naturally or otherwise, will usually win.
Donald Trump deeply connected with his supporters while Hillary Clinton was often distant and secretive, and their natural forces of personality were diametrical on this factor. It was always going to be stacked against Hillary Clinton.
Continued in part 2, which looks at the factors of social proof and the very important pendulum.
In the meantime, Stumped is the perfect gift for any Trump fan or confused political junkie this holiday season! Get it, and have your friends wonder where your omniscient third-eye came from.