Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Years Resolution in the Time of Trump

Farewell to 2016!

Farewell to Donald Trump and the "experts" analyzing how he "won"!  He didn't win. He lost by three million votes.

As my New Years resolution I am going to be hopeful about America in spite of Trump because he is essentially a triviality. In writing about politics these next four years, that's exactly what I am going to focus on: politics. If you want anti-Trump rants, you'll have to look elsewhere. If something he or the GOP does is truly significant, I'll take a look at it. But none of us has time for his strutting and shenanigans. My focus will be on nuts and bolts, real stuff that matters. In my next blog I'll be tackling how we get rid of the electoral college's anti-democratic grip on the outcome of elections. No more presidencies going to losers like George W. Bush or Donald Trump, please!

In saying goodbye to Donald Trumpand Campaign 2016 there is, however, an important lesson to be learned by all who care about politics. It's important because it has big implications for the future of campaigning in the technological age. Part of the lesson is set forth by Charlie Cook in the National Journal's How Analytical Models Failed Clinton. Cook first explains "analytics" (the definition is not relevant here; you can read it in his article) and then gets to the meat:

"The re­li­ance, or per­haps over­re­li­ance on ana­lyt­ics, may be one of the factors con­trib­ut­ing to Clin­ton’s sur­prise de­feat. The Clin­ton team was so con­fid­ent in its ana­lyt­ic­al mod­els that it op­ted not to con­duct track­ing polls in a num­ber of states dur­ing the last month of the cam­paign. As a con­sequence, de­teri­or­at­ing sup­port in states such as Michigan and Wis­con­sin fell be­low the radar screen, slip­page that that tra­di­tion­al track­ing polls would have cer­tainly caught."

Regarding this assessment by Cook, it's useful in a general way, but it's also doubtful that polls in the last month alone would have allowed the Clinton campaign sufficient time to correct its course. To mount a real campaign in those states, the Clinton campaign should have made an assessment of those states far earlier in 2016, and its failure to do any assessing, early or late, is dumbfounding. In fact, as I shall explain below, the Clinton campaign had six years to see the clear signs that Wisconsin had skidded off the rails. The failure to recognize this and to do timely polling produced idiot decisions by Clinton's campaign in 2016, as Cook notes:

"[T]he Clin­ton cam­paign did not go on the air with tele­vi­sion ads in Wis­con­sin un­til the weeks of Oct. 25 and Nov. 1, spend­ing in the end just $2.6 mil­lion. Su­per PACs back­ing Clin­ton didn’t air ads in Wis­con­sin un­til the last week of the cam­paign. In Michigan, aside from a tiny $16,000 buy by the cam­paign and a party com­mit­tee the week of Oct. 25, the Clin­ton cam­paign and its al­lied groups didn’t con­duct a con­cer­ted ad­vert­ising ef­fort un­til a week be­fore the elec­tion."

Charlie Cook next points out that "the Clin­ton cam­paign spent more money on tele­vi­sion advertising in Ari­zona, Geor­gia, and the Omaha, Neb­raska mar­kets than in Michigan and Wis­con­sin com­bined. It was Michigan and Wis­con­sin, along with Pennsylvania (the Clin­ton cam­paign and al­lied groups did spend $42 mil­lion on tele­vi­sion in the Key­stone State), that ef­fect­ively cost Demo­crats the pres­id­ency."

To be fair, no one watches TV political advertising. But they do notice one thing about it. They notice when it's not there! What a slap in the face to the good ol' Democrats in Wisconsin and Michigan to see months of no advertising while Clinton was wastefully courting the GOP bastions of Arizona and Texas.

And no personal appearances in Wisconsin ans Michigan by the candidate or her top surrogates! The resulting message to the voters of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania?


Oh, sure, Pennsylvania got a big Clinton campaign "show" the night before the election. A star-studded cast rallying for and with Hillary in Philadelphia. All the big-shots. All the reminders of the elitism of the Clintons. A blatant last minute bandaid. (No pun intended,)

As you readers know, I thought Clinton was a poor choice of candidate, one who couldn't win. But when she started advertising in Arizona, I assumed it was on the basis of her campaign's private polling showing she had the election in the bag. It was inconceivable to me that the Clinton campaign had no idea they were in trouble in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. So I ditched my skepticism about Hillary and told everybody—with firm assurance—that she was going to win. I mean, she wouldn't be spending time and money in Arizona if Wisconsin was at risk, right?

Hillary Clinton deceived me. Just as broadly and badly as Bill Clinton deceived people when he lied on television: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Hillary was actually worse than a liar. She was stupid. She didn't know Wisconsin was going away, had left the Democratic ranks years earlier. She didn't know what was in plain sight. She didn't recognize what any Democratic candidate or old pol could and should have recognized.

Wisconsin. Cradle of the Progressive reforms of a century ago, including direct election of US Senators, the referendum, the recall, workers comp, and more. It was home to the dynamic reformist family, the La Follettes, who changed America. At least one descendant is still active in Wisconsin politics."La Follette Moves Closer To Run For Governor") For a hundred years Wisconsin has been consistently liberal. It has been the light of my life!

Then in 2010, far-right GOP candidate Scott Walker took the governorship, immediately stripped the public sector unions of clout, then defeated a referendum on his outrageous new law, successfully defied a recall attempt although no other governor has ever beaten a recall (How Scott Walker won the Wisconsin recall election - CBS News). He then later won re-election. All this in Wisconsin! 

The sky has fallen! The sky has fallen!

By 2014 I had found a political crony in Wisconsin. "What in hell," I asked her, "is going on in your state? What's wrong in Wisconsin?" 

Now tell me this: how come an old lady of almost 80 years like me could spot a big warning in the skies while the hip, techie, well-paid folks of Clinton's campaign (and I love techies) missed it entirely?

They didn't even need no stinkin' polling! It was blatantly obvious something tectonic had shifted in Wisconsin.

They didn't need any polling about Michigan either to spot it as a trouble zone. Why not? Because  Bernie Sanders had beaten Clinton in the Michigan primary! From that moment on, her campaign should have recognized she had a problem in Michigan. Michigan was telling her that people there were angry about jobs, trade pacts, big banks, the status quo, all things that Clinton wore like name badges at a luncheon.

I should have recognized it. (I did at the time Michigan went for Bernie but I got conned by Clinton's confident spending in Arizona in the general.) The media should have recognized the warning signs too . What the media and I were unaware of was that Clinton's people hadn't recognized the signs. Like fools, we trusted they knew what they they were doing. That they were either already taking necessary steps in these states or had inside polling which showed they were safe.

Again, it was inconceivable that they didn't know the political reality of these states. As the musical "The Music Man" so wisely tells us, "You gotta know the territory."

I suggest that a lot of techie wizards had better peel themselves away from both the polls and the analytics and get out in the field and listen to people. Learn the territory. Also know enough American history that when a seismic shift occurs you can recognize it. In short, politicos of today have gotta learn their stinkin' job!

Politics is people. Numbers are important, but behind those numbers there are people. 

Computers are tools. Computers are not a substitute for listening to people and watching how they behave in their voting. Someday when all the older folk have died off and the unemployed blue-collar folks can afford computers, maybe the computers will truly facilitate political communication of a wide enough swath. Just keep in mind that, for now, the greatly heralded communication value of "social media" is pretty much confined to the young and the hip and the hate-mongers and the twittering of Trump. Stand up from your computer now and then, hang out at the checkstand at the supermarket, chat to the guy pumping gas next to you, walk some precincts, visit with the woman who runs the dry cleaners. Take the pulse of the voters. Have respect for the people.

Listen and learn.

And have a wonderful New Year. Be kind to everyone and life will pay you back. 

For auld lang syne, my friends. For auld lang syne!

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