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A 2016 Election Prediction: The Rise and Fall of Donald Trump

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Editor’s Note: GreenBook has no position on the US Presidential race. We have been showcasing the experiment being conducted by BrainJuicer under their System1 Politics brand because we think it’s innovative, interesting, and because I am a bit of a political junkie (much to the chagrin of many of my Facebook friends).  You can read more about the experiment here and here.

Now, despite there being over 2 weeks to go before the election and traditional polls running to extremes on who is ahead, in true BrainJuicer fashion they are calling the election for Hillary Clinton based on the results of their 3Fs tracking study.

Here is their analysis on why the feel confident that the outcome is already decided from a behavioral science perspective.

 

By Tom Ewing

Our System1 Politics election experiment is almost over. We have been tracking the US election without asking a single voting intention question, instead measuring the deep “System 1” heuristics that humans use to make decisions:

Fame (does something come easily to mind?)

Feeling (do I feel good about something?)

Fluency (is it distinctive – i.e. can I recognise and process it quickly?)

We’ve shown that the 3Fs drive brand share and predict brand growth. We felt they would also do a good job of predicting political outcomes – earlier and more accurately than the pundits and polls. We don’t really believe the polls can be “rigged” – but we know human psychology can’t.

So for the last nine months we’ve been doing regular waves looking at political candidates on the 3Fs. First, we surveyed the host of candidates that filled the primaries back in January, when we called it that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would be the nominees.

As the race thinned out, we focused in on those two politicians, ultimately running week-by-week dips during the closing three months of the campaign.

With three weeks to go, we’re calling the outcome. We don’t necessarily think she’s heading for the kind of landslide the polls indicate – but we do think Hillary Clinton has it in the bag.

In a previous post we explored her strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, as revealed in our data. But as these two charts show, that isn’t the real story of this election.

Here are the 3Fs in January:

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And here are the same measures today.

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Both politicians have risen in Feeling – though Hillary Clinton has maintained a steady lead. But Donald Trump’s once huge advantage in Fluency has collapsed. People no longer see The Donald as distinctive. Clinton’s Fluency has managed to sustain itself far better – to the point that she’s actually overtaken him.

So what happened?

To understand that, you need to understand what Fluency is.

HOW TO BE DISTINCTIVE

At its core, Fluency measures distinctiveness. But “Distinctive” doesn’t mean “different”. There’s no denying that Donald Trump is a very different politician. His policies and selling points are unique. But in politics as in branding, distinctive isn’t about unique selling points. It’s about being easy to recognise and process.

What boosts Fluency? Distinctive assets – simple, highly recognisable things that stick in the mind and reinforce memory structures. Trump has had plenty of these – from his hair, to his “Make America Great Again” slogan, to his signature “build a wall” policy. Clinton also had some strong distinctive assets – her experience, her associations with Bill Clinton’s presidency, and the fact that she’s the first major-party woman candidate. But the fact that she never hit the heights of Fluency that Trump did suggests these were comparatively weaker.

What damages Fluency? Having no distinctive assets kills it dead. But the other great enemy of processing ease is a lack of congruence. You see this again and again in innovation – new ideas failing to succeed because they’re not fluent enough. And what lets them down is incongruence: parts of the concept clashing with other parts. Think bacon vodka. Or vegetable flavour jell-o. They’re different alright. But they’re not Fluent.

With those things in mind, it’s easy to explain the Trump phenomenon.

TRUMP’S FLUENCY DOWNFALL

As the campaign went  on, Trump’s Fluency fell steadily. The percentiles on this chart show where in our branding norms database his Fluency score at each stage would put him. Even in June, when he was at his strongest in our overall model, his Fluency score was slipping from its early heights. By September, it had collapsed.

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The first and most fundamental point is that, quite simply, the novelty of Trump wore off. Against a Republican establishment, he was an excitingly distinctive proposition, using a simple set of distinctive assets – winning, the Wall, making America great again – to knock out opponents. It’s also obvious with hindsight how congruent the Primaries format was for Trump. A competition with him at the centre and the others dropping out one by one? Just like The Apprentice.

In the later part of the campaign, Trump stopped being a novelty. He lost focus on his distinctive assets – not mentioning the Wall at either Presidential debate, for instance – and faced an opponent with higher Feeling who he couldn’t simply fire. All bad for his Fluency.

He also had another problem: incongruence. His biggest drop came between becoming the nominee and the first debate. This was the period where he was having to act like a Presidential candidate in a normal election, reading off teleprompters at the convention and endorsing GOP candidates – going completely against the distinctiveness he’d built up. Was he a maverick outsider or a GOP hero?  Trump was becoming the bacon vodka of politics.

The first debate was an opportunity to boost Fluency in a big way by claiming and owning a vital asset: appearing presidential. One candidate took that opportunity, and it wasn’t Donald Trump. Clinton’s Fluency was also very low before the debate, but jumped back up afterwards, putting her in the lead.

Trump’s Fluency, meanwhile, has dipped still lower, as he dissolves into a mess of contradictions: is he a Republican or does he hate them? Is he presidential or a pervert? As one respondent in our verbatims put it: “Still trying to figure him out.” In other words, no Fluency.

CONCLUSION: WHAT DRIVES ELECTIONS?

This has been an unusual election with two candidates who feel like the precise opposite of each other. But at the fundamental level of the 3Fs, the fascinating thing is that both candidates have moved in similar ways since January. They’ve both gained Feeling. They’ve both lost Fluency.

With two such different candidates acting in the same way, we can hypothesise that these shifts are created by the campaign process itself, not by the candidates.

So we’d suggest two rules for election campaigns, that candidates need to be aware of.

  1. Familiarity Breeds Contentment. Even with the most hostile campaigns in presidential history, positive Feeling for both Trump and Clinton is higher than it was in January. As people get used to the candidates, and make their decision as to who to vote for, positive emotions rise and negative emotions fall.
  2. Distinctiveness Declines. As familiarity rises, the novelty factor of the candidates wanes, and their Fluency falls. Trump’s Fluency – based on being a wild card – was far more vulnerable to this than Clinton’s. Back in January we noticed she had definite leads on the distinctive assets around the presidency itself – and (thanks to her debate performances) this ‘presidential’ Fluency has worn out much less.

Donald Trump was a classic challenger brand. We love a challenger brand story. But because we love that story, we usually remember the challenger brands that make it. We don’t remember the fads and flash-in-the-pans, the ones who didn’t “cross the chasm” to mainstream acceptance. And right now, with 3 weeks to go and his Fluency in the basement, that’s where Donald Trump is.

(Whoever you support, though, we at BrainJuicer and System1 Politics urge you to vote. None of this analysis will matter if people don’t get out and use their right to vote on November 8. Here’s hoping for a peaceful Election Day, and whoever you vote for, please vote!)

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