Our minds tell us it’s Biden, our guts tell us it’s Trump
Who will be the next president of the United States?
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday.
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)
The professional vertigo of every election strategist these days: Who is going to win? Trump or Biden?
As professional campaign managers and strategists, we hear this question every day. Sure, we want to impress with the perfect prediction, but actually, um… we really can’t. We are professionals. We’ve won and lost so many times in so many countries, and all throughout our careers we have always relied mainly on surveys and polls.
Our minds are already made up: Biden is the next winner of the US presidential. So why now, whenever we’re asked, do we strongly refuse to commit to a prediction? Sure, Biden’s numbers are so much higher. But still, why do our stomachs tell us it actually might be Trump?
Is it maybe because in a crazy year like 2020, anything can happen? Is it because some Trump voters are embarrassed to admit they are voting for him, but will surprise us on Election Day? Perhaps, but there are some more-professional indicators that might predict a Trump victory.
Just as in 2016, Donald Trump is simply more interesting, especially on social issues. Hundreds of millions of people, those who love him as well as those hate him, start their day with checking what’s new on Trump’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts, just to see what he’s up to today; simply because the guy is an interesting troublemaker. It’s safe to say almost nobody checks Biden’s social feeds first thing in the morning.
Trump fights with the media, gets COVID and recovers, blames China, fights with the media some more, doesn’t maintain social distancing, risks infecting his security detail, provokes with statements about leaving the country if he loses to “the worst candidate ever,” while Biden is, well, running a very boring campaign.
In the post-digital-revolution era, running an interesting campaign is far more important than advocating for the right policy or cause. Today, it’s much more important to frame the narrative of the election around your story, the story that attracts more attention and makes you look better than the other candidate.
Biden wanted the story of these elections to be a story of good versus bad, a story about the sane versus the insane, the responsible versus the crazy. But his content was too boring. Just like in the debate, Trump always stole the show. Trump succeeded in reframing the story to strong versus weak, healthy versus sick, young versus old (even though they are both almost the same age).
BIDEN SHOULD have cashed in on Trump’s polarizing society with not doing enough against police brutality, but Trump was quicker and framed the story to be about vegan anarchists who want the police canceled in order to riot in the suburbs, thus possibly attracting new voters who don’t actually like Trump but are afraid of chaos in their own backyards.
Biden could have cashed in on Trump’s irresponsible behavior around COVID, but Trump actually got infected, recovered in a mega-storm of viral content about health and illness, while of course positioning himself as the strong and the healthy. Trump’s negative attacks on Biden, questioning his cognitive functioning, were overwhelmingly strengthened by Trumps recovery.
Just imagine what would have happened if Biden had got infected instead of Trump. Trump has succeeded in making Biden look and feel 20 years older than Trump himself. Yes, apparently, in crazy 2020, a 74-year-old candidate can use ageism against a candidate who is 77. And it seems to be working.
Honestly, it’s impossible for Biden to create more interesting content than Trump. He could have used the boring ticket with full power: Include boredom in his campaign as a strong main message. Connect boredom to the America that once was. Promise to make America boring again, just normal boring times, like before COVID and racism and riots and division. Biden should have tried to frame the campaign as “interesting but crazy Trump” versus “the good old boring times we enjoyed before COVID and racism” for himself.
His main message should have been: Biden, because America deserves a boring president, a president who will return America back to the normal boring life it enjoyed before Trump. Instead, Biden tried to be cooler than Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, using slang words like “maaaan” so many times, without really meaning it. This does not look cool. True, Trump’s horrific dance does not look cool either, but it does position him as younger and healthier than Biden, and it is, of course, very viral, and viral is young and alive and kicking. Viral is cool!
So who will be the next president of the US? The answer to this question will affect every election campaign around the world in the near future. Will the polls be right, or will the most viral interesting content generator win? Soon we’ll find out: Is the world returning to “normal” old-school leaders, or is democracy permanently evolving into the hands of a new breed of leaders who are ultra-provocative social-media influencers?
The writer is an international crisis manager of election campaigns.