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This blog offers an international look at the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Indeed, campaigners worldwide are fascinated with American election campaigns. We observe relentless paid television advertising, straight-forward attack spots, sophisticated targeting and record-breaking fundraising. One cannot – and should not – simply copy paste American campaign techniques. However, campaigners out there in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia can get a lot of inspiration and specific takeaways from the most professional campaign in the world. This is the purpose of this blog.

The First Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump

A general rule about debates is this: a candidate should know the issues, should know where he stands on the issues, and should know where his opponent stands (and stood) on the issues. Hillary Clinton met exactly that challenge on Monday night and Donald Trump didn’t.

During the past couple of weeks, Clinton dropped considerably in the surveys. The debate probably helped her put an end to this. This being said, in a presidential campaign, many voters take repeated looks at the candidates. In the past, several candidates such as Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004 have performed poorly in the first debate, but were able to come back and do better in the succeeding debates. It is possible that Donald Trump will do the same. However, he has to make a more appealing case for change and expand his electoral coalition. And most of all, he needs to make voters comfortable with the kind of change that he is offering, namely convince them that he has the temperament and know-how to be president.

More on the first U.S. presidential debate in my interview on the news show "10vor10" on Swiss television (in Swiss German):

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The debates I

On Monday night, the first presidential debate will take place. The situation couldn’t be more exciting as surveys basically show Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump running even. Voters generally like debates because it’s the only opportunity for them to compare the candidates directly and next to each other. People watch debates, the media covers them and people watch the media coverage about them. This being said, it is much easier to lose a debate than to win it. At the beginning of the debate preparation, it is important to decide as a campaign team what you want to strategically achieve with the debate. Indeed, if you don’t know what your goal is, how can you assess afterwards if you won the debate? For Hillary Clinton, the goal is to change the dynamics of the race. If the election were held today, she would probably still win, but her lead has narrowed considerably within a short amount of time. She needs to put an end to this. As for Donald Trump, he needs to convince the American people that he has the temper and the knowledge to be president of the United States. There are voters who want to vote for change, but they need to be reassured that Trump can do the job. With all of this, how a candidate says something is as important as what he actually says. Therefore, it is important that a candidate looks like he wants to be there. In that sense, a generic advice for probably each and every candidate participating in a debate is this: stay cool, smile.

The Race for the White House Has Gotten Closer

It has not been a great couple of weeks for Hillary Clinton. Her comment about the “deplorables”, insulting Trump voters as well as questions about her health have obviously hurt her campaign. It is not clear how the latest New York and New Jersey attacks will affect the campaign. If Trump were a generic Republican candidate, it would probably help him. But he has demonstrated time and again that he is all but a generic Republican candidate. However, it looks like Trump’s new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was able to instill some discipline to the campaign, which is a key factor. I always tell my clients that discipline wins elections. As a result of all this, the race has gotten closer. Some surveys (both nationwide and in crucial swing states) now show Trump ahead, some still see Hillary in the lead (but definitely with a smaller lead than during the month of August). This being said, it probably still is Hillary who has the edge. Her campaign manager, Robby Mook, recently put out a memo arguing that Clinton has a much wider path to the needed 270 electoral votes. Indeed, traditional swing states such as Ohio and Florida are “must-wins” for Trump. On the other hand, if Trump can’t break away one of the states that is leaning Democratic, Clinton basically just has to win Florida, Ohio OR North Carolina in order to move to the White House. Also, the fact that the race got closer is not entirely bad news for Clinton as it gives her campaign and her (rather uninspired) base a purpose, namely to stop Trump. But she needs to use the debates in order to change the dynamics of the campaign and win back the momentum, which seemed to have slipped away from her to Trump. This is dangerous as I often tell my clients: Which campaign would you rather be? Run two points ahead, but lose the momentum, or run two points behind and have the momentum on your side? A few days before the election it’s better to be the first one while a few months before the election it’s better to be the second one. And with barely seven weeks to go? Tough call.

Crisis Communication: Lesson 4

Politicians often think that the media is out to get them. They ignore that the competition for news is as competitive as the competition for votes. Journalists report what they think consumers are interested to read or watch. In the old days, the news cycle was 24 hours. Nowadays, the news cycle is almost non-stop. Pictures make news. The incident of Hillary Clinton leaving the 9/11 memorial early is yet another good example for that. Within a short period of time, the video went viral and it put Clinton’s health at the center of the media coverage.

More about the current state of the U.S. presidential election campaign (in German) on:

Crisis Communication: Lesson 3

Prior to a crisis, there are often warning signs (which normally go unnoticed). Once a crisis breaks (point of no return), common reactions include shock, denial, anger or bargaining for time. Once you have overcome these, you can start making smart, strategic decisions on how to deal with the crisis.