The Globe and Mail Report on Business by Erin Kelly 15 November 2016
In August, our company’s artificial intelligence noted a stunning reversal in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s fortunes. His numbers were climbing fast and from every direction. Our published findings were met with some push-back, perhaps because of the contentious conclusion. Mr. Trump’s popularity was rising among the very groups the press said he was alienating: African-American and Hispanic voters.
We now know that this finding was true. Mr. Trump could not have won Michigan without significant support among African-American voters. And contrary to many pollsters, our forecast for the popular vote was dead accurate, showing that Mr. Trump won much more of the minority vote than reported.
But even in light of this evidence, many commentators continue to promote the falsehood that Mr. Trump’s victory can be attributed exclusively to “angry, uneducated whites.” Were it that simple.
Up until August, Mr. Trump’s base of support was stubbornly age-based. People over 65 were flocking to him, but that posed a problem – his brand was beginning to seem old. His numbers were tanking. Now remember, Mr. Trump is a branding expert, and surely he was aware of this static image and the limits it posed.
Well, guess what? Suddenly, the old Republican guard started publicly telling the news media that they were no longer supporting Mr. Trump. Importantly, the senior citizens of the Republican Party were not leaving quietly. They were holding news conferences and publishing letters in the national newspapers.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was thrilled, telling the nation on Jimmy Kimmel Live that she was grateful that “All these Republicans are endorsing me” – Republicans like Hank Paulson, architect of the 2008 bailouts of financial companies that destroyed the livelihoods of many middle-income Americans.
Good news for Ms. Clinton? Uh, no. It turned out that all those young Bernie Sanders supporters didn’t love sharing air time with ex-members of the Grand Old Party. And it reinforced Mr. Trump’s message that his opponent was part of the old school that he was fighting. He was happy to see those has-beens leave! The worst part for Ms. Clinton was that our numbers showed that, come November, electors 65 and over would likely go back to Mr. Trump, which meant he was now scooping up young and old voters alike.
With this updated image, Mr. Trump realized that he could appeal to all groups – young and old, white and non-white. He took his new confidence to Detroit. On Aug. 19, Mr. Trump addressed a crowd of African-American voters in Dimondale, Mich.
“What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” he asked them. “Your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 per cent of your youth is unemployed, what the hell do you have to lose?” Our AI showed African-American support for Donald Trump increased substantially after this speech, and was equal to that of Hillary Clinton by Election Day.
People who believe that Mr. Trump is a bumbling fool whose speeches are the result of inexperience could not be further from the truth: While he doesn’t have political experience, he does have marketing and branding experience, and he very skillfully turned Ms. Clinton’s best asset – her decades of political experience – against her.
Like any good marketer, Mr. Trump positioned himself as the opposite of his opponent. He’s brash and speaks his mind. Why? Because Ms. Clinton, like most people who have spent decades in politics, is a flip-flopper with a well-earned reputation for saying what people want her to say. Americans found her to be insincere and dishonest.
On Jimmy Kimmel Live, Ms. Clinton stuck to her complicated campaign message. “I’m out here talking about … how we can create a lot more good jobs, here’s how we can help young people pay off their student debts, here’s how we can make college more affordable, here’s what we do about health care, lots of issues, prescription drugs, mental health, addiction.”
And Mr. Trump? Like any great marketer, he kept his message simple. He just wanted to Make America Great Again. He let the electorate fill in the rest.
Erin Kelly is the CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc., a company that creates artificial intelligence to predict public opinion and market outcomes.