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Political Campaign Strategy: Hillary's Hiccups

In a year which saw large anti-establishment sentiment sweep the globe, it was expected that Clinton would triumph in the face of adversity. Seen as campaigning for her gender and having learned from her ‘08 campaign, she had ironed out the kinks and come back virtually unbeatable. Throw in a celebrity opponent with virtually no political experience and you could have directed all future presidential mail to Hillary R Clinton, Potus.

So what exactly went wrong for Clinton. On paper, she had a rock solid campaign strategy which should have been able to defeat any obstacles that cropped up. Here we look at some of the reasons, we believe, things didn’t work out as expected.

Low Voter Turnout

A lot has been made of the lack of women who voted for Hillary Clinton. Using her gender to rationalize her defeat, many have said women failed Hillary. Expected to unite against the sexist Trump, instead, voting went as previously expected, with many voting more or less as they always have: along party lines. Of Republican women, fifty-three percent of white women voted for him, just as the majority of white women have voted Republican in recent elections.

What wasn’t part of the plan, however, was the significant drop in Election day turnout particularly among Hillary voters. By comparison, Hillary’s 61m plus votes (which won her the popular vote, but not the Electoral College vote) is considerably less than the 69,498,516 Obama got in 2008, and the 65,915,795 he received in 2012. She was particularly hurt by the low turnout in crucial swing states.

The Trump Card

The big subplot in this election was something that Clinton couldn’t have foreseen. After bowing out in 2008 to a more progressive candidate in Barack Obama, it would have seemed obvious that the US was moving in an ever more liberal direction. This seems to be the real problem for the Democratic establishment, they failed to read the Nation’s mood correctly and ignored the conservative backlash from middle-America.

Interestingly, Donald Trump seemed intent on self-sabotage, or what would have been labeled self-sabotage in any other election cycle, with his proclamations on Latino’s, women and immigrants. While Clinton was battling her own demons in the form of an FBI investigation over an email scandal, Trump was widely panned as a joke candidate by the mainstream media. Mainstream media was one of the many malfunctions here and they were in a real sense replaced by the less attractive but stealthier first cousin: social media. Trump’s rhetoric had far greater leverage on Twitter compared to Clinton’s fairly standard liberal fare.

Trump’s agenda pushed America’s boundaries and speeches over walls in Mexico and rallies about illegal immigrants got much more airtime than Clinton’s policies about LGBT rights and early childhood education. Trump wasn’t trying to appeal to the masses, he simply wanted to appeal to people like him and when the votes were tallied it seems genuinely frightening to think a lot of people shared his views.

Focusing On The Wrong Areas

Trump’s victory came from the core of what used to be considered the industrial center of the US. His “Make America Great Again” resonated hard with people who lived in areas which now have largely been left deindustrialised. It was these areas which were seen as Hillary Clinton’s “blue wall” – three Great Lakes battlegrounds that Republicans had banged their heads against for years.

But Donald Trump had no problem breaking this GOP duck and romped to victory in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Trump did it on a tide of votes from rural and blue-collar whites, highlighting the rural V urban dynamic at play this year. He was helped by Clinton’s neglect of the region and her failure to fully mobilize her party’s own base, including young voters and African-Americans.

In Wisconsin, where Clinton didn’t make a single stop during the general election campaign, she won voters under 30 by just 4 points. Obama won them by 23 points four years ago. The state voted Republican for the first time since 1984. “The vote among younger voters dropped off appreciably” for Clinton, said Tom Holbrook, political scientist for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Clinton’s margin in the ultra-blue city of Milwaukee was 27,000 votes smaller than Obama’s. That was roughly the size of her statewide defeat. In Detroit, she won roughly 50,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012.

“It’s is nothing short of malpractice that her campaign didn’t look at the electoral college and put substantial resources in states like Michigan and Wisconsin,” says Democratic pollster Paul Maslin. Neither President Barack Obama nor the first lady was dispatched to Wisconsin, either.

Technology Was No Match For ‘Cult Of The Personality’

Hillary Clinton valued a well-oiled campaign machine and recruited many of the same people who worked on Obama ‘08 and ‘12. Mining votes was the story of the last two elections, so Clinton uprooted the country's best and brightest and placed them in her New York HQ. Her force of volunteers and unstoppable technology brought her team data set after data set, hoping this was the springboard for success once again. Ultimately, the enthusiasm for Trump based on ‘cult of the personality’ couldn't be overcome.

Even when Clinton consistently beat Trump in a battle of words over the course of their three debates, Trump still managed to hang in there with the voters. While Clinton still put in the hard work with the help of her hugely tech savvy team, she overlooked areas that would cost her. Like we highlighted above, Clinton never visited Wisconsin during the general election campaign, and on Nov. 8, the State tipped in Trump’s favor with an ease that caught the Democrats flat-footed. The weekend before the election, Clinton’s team of volunteers knocked on 415,000 doors across New Hampshire to narrowly win on election day. This type of feat was unheard of in Trump circles, but simply couldn't be replicated across every State, showing that, in fact, her ground game wasn’t good enough to defeat Trump.

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