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BW Businessworld

Trump Is Winning!

Trump is gaining unprecedented support because he is selling xenophobia. In a world where income disparity is increasing and everyone aspires to be wealthy, it’s very tempting to buy this xenophobia laced quick-fix utopia

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Two disclosures before I begin. First, I am a keen follower of politics and have a reasonable interest in psephology, and second, I am not a Trump supporter, far from it, I find him repulsive.

Being an Indian living in Hong Kong, I guess it's none of my business who wins the US election but the world cannot remain silent in this spectacle. Spectacle because of the money spent (nearly a billion dollars have already been spent by candidates) and how supposedly the world's fortunes are tied to the outcome.

This time we have a unique and unprecedented election: first female candidate (so much for the oldest democracy and a land of equal opportunities), a candidate who is not liked by his own party, first spouse of an ex-president and the campaign that's reaching a new low in terms of promises, accusations and smearing.

Like always, we have opinion polls with all kinds of demographic data and mind numbing analysis to predict a winner. I would argue we cannot predict this one based on past analysis or traditional methods given the unique candidates. Instead, I have tried to look beyond the statistics to understand the dynamics of promises and the undercurrents amongst voters. I have some bad news and some not-so-bad news to report. The bad news is that Trump is winning this election. The not-so-bad news is that it will not be as bad a deal as it's being made out to be.

I remember reading in Mad magazine (I am a big fan) that America can end up electing a cartoon character as the president if it had a good/interesting campaign. Not surprising, we have seen candidates' ratings drop because of hairdos, colour of the neckties and how often they coughed and sniffled during a speech. This time around it's a bigger circus.

On a serious note, let's examine the current perceptions about these two candidates. Hillary has a negative opponent; Trump has a weak opponent (or so he has been able to successfully sell). Trump has nonsense to offer that people remember, Hillary has nothing specific to offer that people remember. Trump has a dubious past that we know of, Hillary has a dubious past that we might not know of. Trump claims he is richer than what we think he is, Hillary claims she is not rich (Really?). Trump is an abuser (in multiple ways) and the skeletons keep falling out, Hillary once backed a famous abuser and we don't know if all the skeletons ever came out.
Hillary suggests Trump is an unfit candidate and he should lose. I believe it's a bad start and it never works. Successful candidates try to win and don't wait for the opponent to lose. Rubio and Kasich took the same approach against Trump, they never really tried to win, but waited for Trump to fail and we all know how that turned out. Either Hillary is falling for the same complacency trap or she really can't figure out what to offer. Further, as the campaign is entering its last phase, she has started to offer even less. She is mostly reacting to whatever Trump says or has done in past. He is setting the agenda (good or bad) while she is waiting for him to lose. She should remember, there is no convention after this and super PACs won't matter in a general election.

Trump is gaining unprecedented support because he is selling xenophobia. In a world where income disparity is increasing and everyone aspires to be wealthy, it's very tempting to buy this xenophobia laced quick-fix utopia. The hypothesis is that by isolating and driving foreigners away, they would suddenly become masters of their own destiny and prosper quickly. The thought that our problems are caused by outsiders is a dangerously self-gratifying one, but it's a taboo no one wants to admit in a civilised society. So, when most voters respond to an opinion poll, they say the right things but while voting, a lot of them will resonate with Trump's offering. Not so long ago, we saw similar nonsense being served to the UK public and they bought it. Brexit result came out as a big surprise to everyone because opinion polls hadn't shown it (Wink wink!).

Another interesting fact is that in recent times, when xenophobia is sold so blatantly in this brazen and loud fashion, it gets support. Trump is not the only example, we have Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban and many other leaders around the world of late getting a lot of purchase for xenophobia and related merchandise.

I believe standard demographic voter segmentation also isn't applicable to this election given the uniqueness. Three voter segments are going to be critical: 1) Loyal trump supporters who openly embrace xenophobia, aggressive rabble rousers and have little room for logic/rationale don't care if Trump is lying or is a predator (to everyone's surprise this number is a steady big one and they will all vote for Trump even if he pressed an even bigger self-destruct button). 2) Neutral educated voters and millennials (most but not all will vote for Hillary, rest may abstain).

3) Neutral uneducated or blue collar voters (may split 50-50 and might swing towards Trump if he is able to create a perception that he is being victimised by the "system").

Quick summary of the above tells us that the race is closer than we think and Trump has a big chance to edge ahead given the lack of charisma and no concrete offering from Hillary. Interestingly, Hillary doesn't have any specific voter segment that is a diehard support base. She is counting on Obamas for the Afro Americans, counting on Trump for women voters and counting on Democrats because she is the nominee. Weakness all over. Hillary thought Trump is the weakest Republican nominee she could ask for; Trump thinks the same about her strength as a Democratic candidate!

Not so bad news is that even if Trump wins, the country will continue to function. Thank god for democracy and the way the legislative system works (sic). Hope we haven't forgotten the government shutdown! After all, a good or bad president can only influence the governance to a certain extent, Senate and the Congress take care of the rest of the inefficiency/circus.

It's better if the world starts preparing for a Trump win as against reacting in a panicky knee-jerk fashion when he actually does (learning from the market mayhem and volatility after the Brexit result).

It will be "right" if I am wrong about this.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


SANJAY VERMA

The author is a business and geopolitical thinker, Ex Asia Pacific CEO for a large multinational firm and lives in Hong Kong.

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