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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.

Election Campaigns and the Electoral System

Elections are not isolated events. They take place within a macro-political system. In other words, the electoral system, party system, political culture, legal regulations etc. all shape election campaigns and election results. It is therefore always important to understand, for example, the mechanics, implications and dynamics of an electoral system.

If the U.S. had the electoral system of France (no Electoral College, but a nationwide election with a runoff), Hillary Clinton would likely be at the White House right now. The story in the media would be how the Republican Party could choose a candidate which is so far off the mainstream. If France had the electoral system of the Netherlands (proportional party-list system), Marine Le Pen had good chances to end Election Day in the same position as Mark Rutte, which is that of the leader of the biggest party and with the first shot at forming a government (which she, admittedly, would be unlikely to succeed).

Right-wing Populism in Europe

After the elections in the Netherlands, there were many articles in the (international) media about right-wing populism in Europe. I find many of those analyses rather biased and one-sided. They all seem to assume that voting for a right-wing party is in itself and by definition something bad and that there is something fundamentally wrong with people who do it. Just for the records, I have so far never worked for a right-wing party. This being said, people are free to vote for whatever legal party they want to vote for. If we as political players, operators and politicians don’t like the way people vote, it’s up to us to make our case more convincingly. Many of the mentioned analyses write about the fears that right-wing voters apparently have, mostly fears of immigrants, other religions or globalization in general. Emotions normally play a role in politicial campaigns, but I nevertheless find this rather arrogant talk. Voters are not afraid, they just happen to disagree with the ruling elite on some key issues. It’s actually that kind of stigmatization and talking down to voters that has helped grow right-wing parties, for example in Austria and France.

Cost-Efficient Media Training

There are more so-called media coaches than people who are actually able to do great media appearances. I always tell my clients that the cheapest, most efficient media training is to watch the tape of your last tv appearance ALONE. If you want to go further than that and get some inspiration, watch a couple of interviews by Kellyanne Conway (see my last blog post).

Kellyanne Conway: Rhetorical Strategies

Kellyanne Conway is an adviser to President Donald Trump and probably one of the most important players in the new White House. She came on board to lead Trump’s presidential campaign back in last August when few people would have given Trump a chance to win. Before joining Trump, she worked as a political consultant and pollster specializing on female voters. She is an extremely disciplined messenger and therefore can indeed provide a lot of value to her boss. That’s probably also the reason why she did a lot of media interviews defending Trump (some might say that Conway actually won the race for Trump). In a talk with the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger (see below), I analyzed some of her rhetorical strategies:

  1. She has a crystal-clear message that she is communicating. In fact, she uses the question of the reporter as a pretext to communicate her own message.
  2. Conway is frequently in the (counter-)offense. As we say in sports: the best defense is a good offense.
  3. She picks up one word of the reporter’s question, but then talks about something else.
  4. When reporters insist, she tries to escape. One of these incidences, which has now become famous, is when she threw out the concept of “alternative facts”.
What Conway does is nothing new to the world of U.S. news television, which is actually based on confrontation. She however does it with more discipline and more charm than others. You can find out more about Kellyanne Conway’s rhetorical strategies in said interview in the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger published on February 17: