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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 U.S. Presidential Campaign: Battle of the Candidate Messages

The most important thing a campaign should do is to formulate and communicate a coherent and appealing message. When I say message, politicians often think of an issue or a slogan. However, a good message is more than that. It's more than a slogan, but less than a party program. It's the narrative the campaign communicates to its target voters.  Strategic public opinion research can help make sure that the message matches the political demand. In that sense, the Trump message would probably go something like this:

Donald Trump is not one of the many career politicians and deficit spenders in Washington D.C. Instead, he has built a successful multi-billion dollar business. He doesn’t owe anything to the establishment or special interests. This makes him the right person to bring much needed change for the forgotten middle class. He will protect our boarders and negotiate new trade deals. Crooked Hillary has been in politics for 30 years. With her, it‘s all talk, controversies and no action. Donald Trump will make America rich, safe and great again.

On the other side, and looking back at the campaign, the Clinton message would sound like this:

No presidential candidate has ever been more qualified to serve as president than Hillary Clinton. She will make sure that the economic recovery will benefit not only those at the top, but everybody. Donald Trump doesn‘t have the temperament to hold our nuclear codes. The way he speaks about women is unacceptable. Instead of building walls, Hillary Clinton will knock down barriers. As the first woman President, she will fight for equal pay for equal work. She will take on global warming and provide affordable education. She knows that our diversity is not a weakness, but our biggest strength. Because in America, we are stronger together.

I’m aware of the fact that at the national level, it’s de facto a tie. Also, message development is not a one-way street. Each side is trying to define the other side as well. Finally, there are other factors than the message, such as for example the ground operation. This being said, the exit polls are the surveys that are taken among those who actually voted. They are being published on the website of CNN and help understand what may have tipped the balance in key battleground states. According to these exit polls, 39% of the respondents said that for them, the most important candidate quality was that he or she could bring change. Among that group, Trump got 83% of the vote while Clinton only got 14%. On the other hand, 21% of the respondents said that they were mostly looking for somebody with the right experience. 90% of those voters voted for Clinton, only 8% for Trump.

Here’s another key figure: 18% of the voters had an unfavorable opinion about both candidates. Among that group, Trump beat Clinton 49% to 29%. In a similar sense, 29% of the voters said that neither candidate is honest. They voted 45% for Trump and 40% for Clinton. 14% of the electorate thought that neither candidate is qualified to serve as president. They went 69% to 15% for Trump.

In other words: When asked to choose between the evil they knew and the evil that promised something new, enough voters in key battleground states went for change. That's the whole race summed up in one sentence.

Next Monday, November 14, I am running a seminar on the lessons learned from the U.S. presidential campaign. It will take place in Zurich and be conducted in German. You can find more information and/or sign up on my website: www.perroncampaigns.com/seminar

A Good Concession Speech

It is needless to say that it’s very painful for any candidate to lose an election. This being said, the playbook for a good concession speech is actually quite simple: The more the loser admits defeat and praises the winner, the more statesmanlike he or she comes across. It’s easy on paper, but emotionally difficult to pull off.

Election Night: A General Advice for Candidates

A general rule which I tell all my clients who run for election: don’t go on the record on Election Day/Night until the result is really clear! It’s a simple piece of advice, but too many politicians ignore it. Remember German Edmund Stoiber in 2002 giving a frenetic speech, only to admit defeat the other day? Or, in the year 2000, then Vice President Al Gore conceded the election and took back his concession a few hours later. No matter how many supporters and journalists pressure, don’t speak until the result is clear.

You can find my answers to the five most important questions regarding the U.S. election here (in German): www.handelszeitung.ch/USA

What to Look for on Election Night

On Tuesday, the American voters will finally choose the successor of Barack Obama in the White House. The race has definitely tightened and remains close. This being said, it looks like Hillary Clinton goes into Election Day with a slight advantage. What to look for on Election Night? I will closely watch Florida. There is practically no way to the needed 270 electoral votes for Donald Trump without Florida. On the East Coast, New Hampshire is definitely also one of the crucial states reporting early. Surveys show a close race there. Should Donald Trump win it, it could be an indicator that the Republican could have a good night. South Carolina is another swing state on the East Coast. If Hillary Clinton wins it, it would be a sign that she will be in good shape on the way to the White House.

On Monday after the election, November 14, I am running a seminar on the lessons learned from the U.S. presidential campaign. It will take place in Zurich and be conducted in German. You can find more information and/or sign up on my website: www.perroncampaigns.com/seminar

Clinton Email Investigation: Assessing the Political Damage

A journalist recently asked me if the video showing Trump making lewd comments about women could – somehow - even end up helping Trump. And, in a similar way, I was recently asked if the FBI reopening the case about Clinton’s emails could in some miraculous way be beneficial for Clinton (in defense of the two people asking these questions: I have witnessed within campaigns people spinning the worst news as possibly beneficial). While I do think that it is sometimes possible to come out of a crisis strengthened, I don’t think this would be the case in these two examples. I don’t see how the video could help Trump, nor how the FBI investigation could help Clinton. The question is more how big and how long-lasting the damage would be. For the case of the FBI reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails, we only start to see any effect in the polls. Some observers think that it might cost her a couple of points in the surveys. Some might say that that’s not a lot, but then also, most things we do in campaigns is about a couple of points. Timing could definitely not be much worse as early-voting is already ongoing in many states. The Clinton campaign would probably try to shift focus back on Trump as soon as possible. In that sense, I was not surprised to see new allegations about Trump's ties with Russia appearing in social media.