I don’t support Donald Trump. I wouldn’t want him to win the presidential election. But if he wins the Republican nomination, he probably will win the election.
There are two big mistakes in the media’s claim that Trump can’t win the presidency, even if he wins the Republican nomination. One is global and one is Australian.
Let’s go to the Australian error first.
When analysing the likelihood of a Trump victory, Australian media outlets love to compare the polling of Trump against both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. This is an error.
Here in Australia we have compulsory voting. Just under 100 per cent of Australians turn up to every election. Therefore ‘turn out the vote campaigns’ do not happen in Australia, and the Australian media does not understand the importance.
In the United States, voter turnout hasn’t exceeded 60 per cent for nearly 50 years. In 1968, 60.7 per cent of eligible voters actually managed to drag themselves out of bed and exercise a right that people had fought and died for. In 1996 less than 50 per cent bothered turning up.
To win or lose an election in Australia, a political party needs to pinch votes from the other side’s voting block. Comparing the two sides is therefore important. In the US however, one wins or loses an election not so much by how many of the other side’s voters one team may flip, but by how many of your own team you can motivate.
Clinton failing to inspire ‘hope’ and ‘change’
Therefore, in looking at a Clinton versus Trump campaign – the likely option – one should compare Clinton 2016 not with Trump, but with Obama 2012 and 2008. Will Hillary get more or less votes out than Obama? And will Trump 2016 get more or less votes than the last Republican candidate Romney 2012?
In both 2008 and 2012 Obama ran a massive ‘get out the vote’ campaign inspiring many first-term voters on ‘hope’, ‘change’ and the history of a first black man in the White House. Voter turnout in 2008 was the highest since 1968 and 2012 was the third-highest since 1968.
Clinton is highly likely to get significantly less people off the couch and out to vote for her than Obama.
Clinton is not inspiring emotion on the level of Obama’s ‘hope’ and ‘change’. Indeed, many on the Democratic side don’t like her.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the history of the first woman president is not motivating women either. In the Iowa Caucus only 14 per cent of women under 30 voted for Hillary. In New Hampshire it was around 10 per cent. The others went for the old white guy, Sanders.
Trump might motivate the voters
Flipping to the other side, is Trump getting out more or less voters than Romney? In the Republican Caucuses, roughly 45 per cent of voters were first-time voters, and they went 60 per cent for Trump.
The commentators may use all sorts of adjectives to denigrate the racial views and education levels of many of Trump’s supporters, but at the end of the day – they vote.
In the 2008 North Carolina Democratic Primaries, 45 per cent of Clinton’s supporters said they would vote for Obama over McCain – 38 per cent said they’d vote for McCain and 12 per cent said they would not vote. When election day came around, most voted for Obama.
Likewise, when Republicans say that they may not vote for Trump, or that they might even – shock, horror – vote Democrat, history says that people say this at Primary time, but still vote for their ‘normal’ team come election day.
Not only that, Trump’s approval within the Republicans is rising with a recent poll having him over 50 per cent for the first time. His momentum is upward.
Trump will get out far more first-time voters on a level few Republicans have ever before. Certainly many times more than Romney. They might not be voting for reasons we agree with, but they will vote nevertheless.
Trump has been underestimated
The second big mistake, a global one, is to underestimate the enemy. When I was a young officer in the Australian Army we were taught there were three ways you can get the enemy to perceive you: two you want, one you desperately don’t.
If the enemy overestimates your capacity, they may not attack. That is good. If they underestimate you, they may attack with too few resources and be defeated. That is good. If they estimate you just right, then they will attack with sufficient resources to win. That is bad.
Right from Trump’s first days on this campaign trail, the left and the media in general have been radically underestimating Trump – and therefore helping him out. The Huffington Post even made a big deal about putting Trump on the ‘entertainment page’ – not taking him seriously, not analysing the threat and letting the threat grow.
Well that worked.
The media then said he can’t win the nomination. Instead, he is looking like he will. They then say, hopefully, a ‘Brokered Convention’ will stop him. Maybe, but unlikely.
And then the media say even if he wins the nomination he will never win because his unfavourables are too high, or he will be caught out, or he won’t get out the vote or the polls are right that both Sanders and Clinton could beat him, or … or … or …
Sure, I understand why the left commentators don’t want Trump to be president, but they continue to underestimate him. They have taken their collective eyes off the most frightening indicator: Clinton will get less votes than Obama, and Trump will get more votes than Romney. Now tell me Trump can’t win.
Andrew MacLeod is a visiting Professor in the Policy Institute at Kings College London, a corporate director in the US and a former CEO of the Committee for Melbourne. He can be followed @AndrewMMacleod