The 2016 election is heralding a new Republican Party and a sharp reversal of roles. The Democratic Party is now the one for the rich and the GOP is now the party of the less privileged.
But the election also betokens major changes in political science which any student of the process or aficionado must examine.
1. The Era Of The Negative Ad Is Dying. Hillary’s wall-to-wall attack ads did almost nothing to dent Trump’s vote share. There has never been a campaign closer than hers to a 100% negative message. She drowned Trump in negative ads, outspending him by more than 4:1, entirely monopolizing the air waves until the final four weeks of the contest. Yet voters discounted the negatives. When the free media reflected news about Trump — the sex tape or the women who charged him with groping — The Donald’s vote share dropped predictably. But when Hillary sought to keep the issues alive through negative ads or to resurrect the embarrassing quotes from Trump’s past, it just didn’t work. Negatives will continue to be useful in campaigns, but they are diminishing in importance as they are overused and voters come to see them as unreliable sources of information.
2. Television Advertising, In General, Is Increasingly Ineffective. Hillary dominated the paid media for all of June, July, August, and September. It was not until mid or late October that Trump ran ads. The free media and social media so dominated the environment that paid advertising had less of an impact than ever before.
3. And, As A Result, Money Lost A Lot Of Its Power. As television advertising — by far the leading expense in modern campaigns — became less important, so did the massive sums of money raised by campaigns. Trump was outspent in the primaries by Bush, Rubio, Cruz, and even Kasich. In the general election, Hillary spent significantly more than Trump did. Yet the money did not make a big difference. Sensing the diminished importance of money, even the Koch Brothers ratcheted back their spending.
4. Passion and Enthusiasm Proved More Effective Than Mechanics In Generating Turnout. In recent years, the marketplace for political tools has been saturated by various schemes to identify voters, usually based on their lifestyle preferences, and use the information to carefully target the campaign message and pull them out to vote. Campaigns have regularly to allocate hundreds of millions to get out the vote efforts of this sort, outdoing each other in the sophistication of their targeting. In exit polls, twice as many voters reported having been personally contacted by the Clinton as by the Trump campaigns. Yet it was Trump who drowned Clinton by bringing droves of new voters to the polls. The passion his message generated — while Hillary used mechanics to bring out the vote — proved far more effective in getting it done.
After each new war, generals have to redesign their strategic texts and learn the lessons of the battlefield. Politics is less responsive to these lessons, but the failure to learn them can be fatal in modern campaigning.
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