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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.

New Trends in Political Campaigns: Volatility

Another trend I currently observe about political campaigns is that the electorate is becoming increasingly volatile. I have long been experiencing this during my work in developing countries, but now we even see it in the Western world. Last year in Germany, the two big parties (the CDU and SPD) together lost a stunning 13.7 percent of their vote share. In France, the established parties basically collapsed. What are the consequences of this for campaigns? A campaign can no longer as reliably count on the support of loyal, regular voters. A party therefore has to continually re-invent itself, innovate and win the support of voters every day anew. Therefore, we should use every (local) election to try out new things. It also makes the development of a coherent and timely message even more important: A campaign has to give its target voters a reason why, this time, they should vote for their candidate or their party (and not one of the competing ones). This is also a challenge for new parties, which sometimes are very successful at the outset, but then find it challenging to sustain that success. Read more about this in an article I recently wrote for Campaigns & Elections Magazine Europe.

State of the Union: Democratic Response

In my last post, I wrote about President Donald Trump and his State of the Union address. This time, I write about the Democratic response to it. In short, Democrats should not feel too comfortable in their position either.

The government shutdown was not good for Democrats. To begin with, I think it was wrong to provoke a government shutdown over immigration. It’s one of the issues where Donald Trump actually has appeal way beyond his base of strong supporters. And yes, probably a majority of Americans agree with Democrats that the Dreamers should not be deported, but instead being offered some sort of pathway to citizenship. But still, it’s not a government shutdown topic. How about provoking a government shutdown over the affordability of health care for the middle class?

Second, to provoke a government shutdown, and then retreat without any major concession just doesn’t look very good either.

During the State of the Union address, Democrats looked awfully political. Admittedly, Donald Trump probably has very little to do with black unemployment being at the lowest in history. But it nevertheless does happen under his watch. A little bit of applause coming from Democrats would not have hurt in my mind. After all, it is a big deal!

General rule: If your political opponent does something right, it’s the wisest strategy to applaud and hug him for it. Actually, the more you hug him, the less the achievement belongs to him. Celebrate his victory, and then rapidly move on to a topic that’s favorable to you!

The big news in D.C. now is of course the memo, which the Republicans in the House intelligence committee wrote and President Trump made public. I carefully listened to all the Sunday talk shows yesterday and I think the issue is just too complicated for most voters and that there is not enough of a smoking gun. As of today, I think it will galvanize the base, but I doubt it will have much impact for either side beyond that.

Let’s not forget that yes, President Trump is seen unfavorably by a majority of Americans. Looking back in history, few State of the Union speeches moved the needle in a substantial and sustainable way and I doubt what we have seen last week is an exception to the rule. At the same time, the electoral map for the mid-term elections is very unfavorable – in both houses - for the Democrats.

Donald Trump Delivers State of the Union Address

Last night, Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union Address. In the American system, the executive and the legislative branch of government are independent from each other. But the constitution says that the president shall inform congress about the state of the union. This is the historic origin of the yearly speech. Nowadays it is of course a great opportunity for any president to deliver a message to the American people watching at home.

The tax breaks, which congress passed late last year, were a central theme in Trump’s speech. Even though I think that the long-term consequences of this will be disastrous for the deficit, it must have come across well for many American voters. The speech also contained some conciliatory words and a call for bipartisanship, but they are just that, words. A lot of the accomplishments Trump touted were in fact undoing accomplishments by the Obama administration (rolling back regulation, single-payer mandate). By the mere tone and vocabulary he is using, it is always very obvious when Trump reads a speech from a teleprompter such as last night, and when he speaks in his own words. It's not that the firing of the FBI Director, the Russia probe, the government shutdown, the changing of the voting rules to appoint Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the twitter battles didn't happen last year. They did happen. The USA are today more polarized than they have been in probably fifty years. One of the consequences of this is also that opinions about the president are quite defined already with a majority of voters disapproving of the job he is doing. In that sense, I would assume that he will gain a few points in the surveys over the next couple of days and weeks, but I doubt the speech marks a new chapter in Trump’s presidency.

New Trends in Political Campaigns: Polarization

These are exciting times in politics! Things change and they change at an increasingly fast pace. For the beginning of this new year, I will start a new series and formulate seven trends I observed and experienced about modern political campaigns. Today we start with polarization.

Politics in many countries is getting increasingly polarized. Geographic area, gender, age and education are the main drivers behind that polarization. And, many voters seem quite happy with this situation at the moment. The zeitgeist for many voters and politicians alike is to express themselves and to like what they agree with, but not really to expose themselves to the other side’s arguments. Look at the big and emotional debates such as the refugee crisis or the #MeToo movement: Until recently, I have heard very few nuancing voices. This might be an opportunity for the right candidate or party. Sooner or later, there will again be a political demand for balancing out various opinions, cooperation, and getting things done. This is not a self-starter, but could be successful if worked out properly and once the cost of the polarization becomes too high.