People chose Trump for same reason they chose Obama

The electorate were looking for ‘change’ – a disruption in the existing system

US president Barack Obama met with US president-elect Donald Trump in the  White House last week. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

US president Barack Obama met with US president-elect Donald Trump in the White House last week. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

 

Change we can’t believe in.

Think for a moment about the millions of people that voted for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. While this may seem counterintuitive on policy grounds, a common thread is an urgent desire for change.

In the CNN exit poll of 24,537 voters, 38 per cent said they voted for a candidate that would bring about change.

The assertion of many pundits is that Trump was supported by marginalised white, uneducated male voters.

While this represents a significant part of the Trump vote, it did not define his support per se, as, according to the CNN exit poll, just one in every four Trump supporters fell into this demographic group.

Indeed, Trump was only marginally behind Hillary Clinton in respect of female (42 per cent to 54 per cent) and college-educated voters (43 per cent to 52 per cent).

His vote is marginally more defined in terms of being white (58 per cent to 37 per cent) and overwhelmingly rural (62 per cent to 34 per cent) or suburban (50 per cent to 45 per cent).

While demographics are useful they are limited. The key difference between Trump supporters and Clinton supporters was that their outlook was considerably more negative.

They believed the country was on the wrong track (Trump supporters 69 per cent, Clinton supporters 25 per cent), that the national economy was in poor condition (63 per cent Trump supporters, 31 per cent Clinton supporters); and most crucially: that the lives of the next generation will be worse than the lives of those today (63 per cent Trump supporters, 31 per cent Clinton supporters).

Focus group

Two weeks ago, I conducted a focus group of Brexit voters in Manchester. They were similarly downbeat about the future.

There was a sense of despair and it was clear that globalisation and technological change was undermining not just their economic security but also the communities and their sense of identity.

When asked why they voted for Brexit, they universally responded that they were looking for “change” – they elaborated that they sought out a disruption in the existing system.

They felt that Brexit presented an opportunity to create the disruption that might, in the shake-up, provide more favourable conditions.

You can therefore see how warnings about Brexit, and indeed about Trump, only played into the very possibility that something might actually happen if they vote on this occasion.

When asked about Trump, they thought he was daft but liked him from the perspective that he was strong and likely to do something.

It is now clear that, in spite of an enormous get-out-the-vote operation conducted by the Clinton campaign, there was a surge in turnout among people looking for a change very different from that which was envisaged eight years ago.

As in my own experience in the 2015 UK general election, once you begin to rely on your campaign infrastructure it is clear that you have lost the air-war. And, indeed, once you have lost the “air war”, you have in all likelihood lost altogether.

Dr Kevin Cunningham is managing director of Ireland Thinks and a former strategist for the British Labour Party

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