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THE HOYOS FILE: How Trump upended the world

Pat Hoyos, [email protected]

THE HOYOS FILE: How Trump upended the world

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Like most of the people around the world who believed Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy was some sort of deviation from the norm that would go away, I found myself in the kind of political shock and then mourning that I only experienced a few times.

The most recent such experience occurred in 2013 in the early hours of that morning after the Barbados general election that saw the Dems return to power, when a handful of St Michael constituencies that were expected to go for the Bees were called for the Dems.

The Trump ascendancy was somewhat similar, come to think of it. The polls almost all showed that Hillary Clinton would make it home with about three percentage points of voter distance between herself and Trump.

But around midnight Barbados time, it became clear that three states she was expected to win – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – would not be corralled that easily. 

Every time she went up in the urban areas, Trump did the same in the rural, until Hillary gradually ran out of urban voters. Michael Moore, the filmmaker, called them the Brexit states.  

The trend toward Trump has been deemed many things in election post-mortems – rural versus urban; white versus minorities; change versus two-term incumbent; the past versus the future; nationalism versus globalism; and many others. But in terms of the hard numbers, two things stand out: first, ten per cent more white women voted for Trump than Clinton overall, and, second, the rural vote far outpaced the statistical models prepared by most pollsters, even the Trump campaign’s own data centre. These two sectors of the electorate performed better than even the Trump campaigns’s wildest expectations.

After some days in my emotional corner, worrying about the state of the world with an unpredictable figure like “The Donald” at the helm of the world’s only superpower, I decided it was time to fathom the unfathomable and think the unthinkable, and to accept that those who voted for Trump weren’t dumb, misguided or ignorant. It was time to come out of my comfort zone of self-pity. 

An excellent article in Bloomberg Businessweek helped me to understand the phenomenon that led to the Trump presidency.

In it, reporters Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg note: “Nobody saw it coming. Not the media. Certainly not Hillary Clinton. Not even Donald Trump’s team of data scientists…were predicting this outcome.” They add: “It was the beginning of the storm that would deliver Trump to the White House.”

About three weeks ago, they write, the president-elect’s analysts “picked up disturbances – like falling pressure before a hurricane – that others weren’t seeing”.

The Trump campaign’s internal election simulator had been showing the candidate with only a 7.8 per cent chance of winning up to that point, even though his analysts “were forecasting a fundamentally different electorate than other pollsters and almost all of the media: older, whiter, more rural, more populist”.

As the little signs became clearer to the analysts inside his campaign, write Green and Issenberg, they “became convinced that even their own models didn’t sufficiently account for the strength of these voters.”

So they told Bloomberg: “We undertook a big exercise to re-weight all of our polling” on the assumption that the voters the other pollsters were sampling from were different from whom the electorate would actually turn out to be. In short, they shifted the goalposts.

Matt Oczkowski, the head of product at London firm Cambridge Analytica and team leader on Trump’s campaign, told the writers: “If he [Trump[ was going to win this election, it was going to be because of a Brexit-style mentality and a different demographic trend than other people were seeing.”

It was, note the writers, based somewhat on desperation. Trump’s team chose to focus on this hidden part of the electorate, because it was the only possible way they could be assured of winning. But would they come out in enough numbers to swing the election Trump’s way?

Things turned in their direction after FBI director James Comey upended tradition by announcing his agency was taking a further look at Clinton’s emails to see if more of them found on her assistant’s computer were new and, if so, whether they had breached national security.

This was widely seen as the FBI putting its finger on the scale on behalf of Trump, and it remains one of the “what-ifs” leading up to a historic election victory. 

The important thing here, say the writers, was that “after Comey, that movement of older, whiter voters became newly evident. It’s what led Trump’s campaign to broaden the electoral map in the final two weeks and send the candidate into states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that no one else believed he could win.” But, they note: “Even on the eve of the election Trump’s models predicted only a 30 per cent likelihood of victory.”

Last week, two other quotes, which I can’t remember exactly, hit home in my fevered mind. One was something to the effect that “The Republicans will wake up sometime in February next year and realise they have a Democrat for a president,” which alludes to Trump’s long-stated and written democratic-leaning views, and his earlier support for the Clintons (both of them).

The other contained this point: The rest of the planet did not take Trump seriously, but took everything he promised literally, while Trump supporters did the opposite: They did take him seriously, but not literally.

According to the reporters, as the Trump campaign focused on appealing to these potential hidden voters, the message Trump himself delivered to them intensified. It was, they write: “A bracing screed that implicated the entire global power structure – the banks, the government, the media, the guardians of secular culture – in a dark web of moral and intellectual corruption. And Trump insisted that he alone could fix it.”

So perhaps there is yet some hope for a milder version of the Trump seen on the campaign. But I won’t bet on it.