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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.

All the best for 2017!

There is no such fascinating thing as an election campaign! My grandfather was sort of a sheriff, which was an elected position. In his office, he had a folder where he kept all the campaign materials. I remember that as a little boy, I spent hours looking at that folder. Somehow, I was fascinated. I went on to study political science, was politically active myself and now I run a political consulting business. But it’s still the same passion for campaigns, and in particular for winning campaigns. Enthusiasm is contagious! In that sense, I wish all the readers of this blog only the best for your campaigns in 2017!

Chat Bots, Fake News, Big Data

I was recently invited by the Austrian party NEOS to give a talk on the lessons learned from the U.S. presidential elections. At that occasion, we also spoke about how online campaigning has shaped the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. In past weeks, there has been a lot of buzz about chat bots, fake news and big data. I have long been skeptical particularly about the influence of social media. I noticed that it happened to be mostly the people who make their living with social media who were so adamant about its influence of election campaigns. However, the following can be said:

1) According to realclearpolitics, Trump won Florida and Pennsylvania each by 1.1%, Wisconsin by 0.8% and Michigan by 0.2%. Without the Comey letter and/or the hike of Obamacare premiums, I think Clinton could have won all of them. In such a scenario, the entire result and analysis would now look distinctively different.

2) Trump’s win was not a win on the basics. It was a chaotic campaign with an undisciplined messenger. However, Clinton’s loss was a loss on the basics of a campaign. An election campaign is a series of strategic decisions. Ignoring non-college educated white men was a fundamental misjudgment. Also, to let Trump own “change” so easily was distinctively wrong.

3) This being said, digitalization is changing our society. There obviously is something in the making. It might be rather difficult to apply it in other settings outside of the U.S., but we should watch what’s happening with fake news, chat bots, facebook shares and in particular with big data. As of now, we know little about the real extent of it and there is not much proof regarding its effectiveness. But microtargeting is particularly promising for a small party in a multi-party, proportional system, where it takes few votes to make a difference.

Authenticity Wins Elections

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has ended with a big upset. One of my key take-aways is that authenticity wins elections. I really believe that Donald Trump is more or less the same behind the cameras compared to what we see in front of the cameras. Probably there is a little bit of a difference, but not much. How does Hillary Clinton speak once the cameras and the microphones are turned off? No clue. And voters can feel it.

The same is also true with respect to the Philippine presidential election earlier this year, which led to the election of President Rodrigo Duterte. The key moment of that campaign was the televised presidential debate, respectively the one-hour live coverage before the debate. Following situation: One of the presidential candidates, then Vice President Jojo Binay, argued with the moderators about the rules of the debate. While this was going on, the other candidates were just waiting on the podium. For about an hour, the entire nation was therefore watching the presidential candidates simply waiting, which was in fact very revealing. Then Mayor Duterte came across as very relaxed, chilled and completely aware of who he is and what he wanted to offer the Philippine people. It was the key moment of the entire race. Realness wins elections.