The Moral Of The Story: How The Democrats Lose Elections

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Noah Levy Freelance Writer
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Trump’s campaign barely had over half of the Clinton camp’s funds.  The media projected him to lose.  Only one major poll predicted the outcome correctly, and it was neither FiveThirtyEight nor the New York Times.  Sounds like the political version of David and Goliath, right?

Why were the experts wrong about 2016?  Did the former Secretary of State not destroy Mr. Trump’s campaign in donations and endorsements?

One assumption in the American politick is that money almost always wins.  While it is true that the wealthier person usually triumphs in all elections, it does not mean a prosperous bank account guarantees electoral victory.  Affluence is associated with victories, but is not the reason for it.

The Democrats should have learned this lesson early on.  Despite having the wealthiest campaign of all Republicans, Jeb Bush barely earned 5,000 votes in the Iowa Caucus last year.  He was behind five other Republicans, in which four of them eachended their entire campaigns at least $40 million below what he raised.  Governor Bush dropped out 10 months before the election.

On the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders had over $30 million less than Clinton’s campaign did just before the Iowa Caucus, yet he only lost to her by 0.3% of the vote.  The senator from Vermont did not give Clinton a run for her money, but rather for her votes.

If we can learn anything from 2016, it is that money does not equal victory.  Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton took the conventional route of fundraising and ultimately lost in their efforts.

But an even more important lesson is that not having money does not mean defeat.  Assumptions of wealth bringing success in politics led many to belittle the Trump campaign of its efforts.  Media outlets capitalized on Trump’s lack of fundraising as a sign of weakness.  Weak candidates do not win elections, yet he won defying conventional wisdom.

Fundraising did not play a major role in this election’s outcome.  So what did?  Jonathan Haidt might have the answer.

In his book, The Righteous Mind, Dr. Haidt proposed that moral foundations are most important in human thought.  The reason why, as Haidt extends, is that the brain is wired to consider intuition and moral beliefs before rationale.  In fact, he argues that what we consider to be rational always leans in the direction of what we perceive to be moral.

Dr. Haidt demonstrated this point in a series of experiments. What he found was this: moral intuitions always set the direction of rationale.  Almost no one will argue for something that defies their morals.  Almost everyone will argue for something that follows their morals.

Haidt explains six major moral foundations that apply to human beings universally.  Based on data in his book, conservatives have an advantage over liberals because they appeal to all six moral foundations; liberals only appeal to three.

If morality is stronger than rationality, and if the GOP focuses more on morality, than the Republicans clearly have the advantage in elections.  That is why many vote for the Republican Party even if the Democrats have progressive policies.

Donald Trump told his supporters that it is not fair for Mexican immigrants to take their jobs and kill other Americans.  He promised a platform running on “America First.”  Trump wants to defend the American worker from “terrible [trade] agreements.”  Donald Trump is the law and order candidate.”  He wanted to liberate Americans from political correctness.  The business mogul successfully used all six moral foundations.

Not only did Trump touch on the intuitions of voters, but he also called out his opponent for being against them.  According to the real estate millionaire, Hillary Clinton is a criminal who champions bad trade deals that send jobs overseas and supports involvement in unnecessary wars.  In the eyes of Trump and his supporters, Hillary Clinton is the immoral candidate.

And what moral foundations did Clinton touch upon?  The same ones that were expected of a Democrat, while simultaneously calling half of Trump’s supporters “deplorables.”

One can argue that Clinton did use all six components at a certain point in time.  However, what also matters is how often you reinforce those moral foundations within a campaign.  When Donald Trump gave speeches around the country, he often invoked the same examples of using all foundations as the ones provided above.  When Hillary Clinton toured the nation, she used ones not typically used by a liberal only when they were trendy.  Clinton shamed Trump for not paying taxes and for his comments on women, but she did not spend the entire campaign reinforcing these examples.  Trump, on the other hand, brought up all six whenever he was active on Twitter.  It is not just about appealing to every moral foundation, but it is also about how often you use them.

Democrats need to diversify their moral platform if they want to succeed in elections.  Rather than emphasizing on only half of the moral foundations, they need to include them all in campaigns.