In 2013, right after she stepped down as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton enjoyed a high approval rating from the American people. Her trust level was on solid ground.
Given her loyal service to the country and to President Barack Obama after the bruising 2008 Democratic presidential primaries in which she and Obama vigorously contended, Clinton’s standing among Democrats was sky high. This situation has allowed Clinton to be perceived as the prohibitive Democratic presidential nominee for the 2016 general elections.
A few months ago, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was undetectable on the presidential political radar as few people even mentioned his name as a potential presidential candidate. Few political prognosticators gave Sanders, a self-described (Democratic) socialist, a chance of even registering in the polls.
On the Republican side, the names that have saturated national political discussions for the past few months have been familiar names of professional politicians who are considered serious prospective candidates. Among those are Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky.
Non-professional politicians such as Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina were easily dismissed as candidates whose candidacies would flounder as soon as the limelight came on.
DEFYING CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
At this juncture of the campaign, various polling numbers prove that many national political handicappers have been dead wrong.
On the Democratic side, 73-year-old Sanders has defied the predictions and is creeping up in the polls. Sanders went from 0% in June of 2014 to an average of 18.2% in August of 2015. At the same time, Clinton’s polling trend is pointing downward. According to news reports, Sanders is drawing huge crowds at his campaign events throughout the country. It is reported that said crowds dwarf the average size of crowds that show up at Clinton’s campaign events.
On the Republican side, those who were considered “amateur” politicians are faring better than expected. Whether it be Trump, Carson, or Fiorina, not many political handicappers foresaw the standing these three candidates now enjoy in the polls.
On many occasions, a bevy of well-respected political analysts and many political reporters have predicted the demise of Trump. Yet, despite his flamboyance and his controversial comments that would have caused the collapse of most traditional presidential campaigns, Trump has maintained his leading spot atop the Republican presidential nomination field and has even increased his share.
THE A.P.E. FACTORS
Why have Sanders and Trump been able to defy conventional wisdom to be doing as well as they are in the polls? There are three prominent reasons that could be encapsulated into what could be termed the A.P.E. factors.
• A for Authenticity
Whether it be Sanders, Trump, or the other non-professional politicians in the presidential race, the voters see them as authentic. None of these non-professional politicians comes across as overly coached and calculating. Though they likely have campaign advisers, these non- professional politicians seem to speak off the cuff and appear to be saying exactly what they think or feel. They appear to be willing to embrace who they are and refrain from cloaking themselves into ‘pre-packaged’ public personas.
Take the multi-billionaire Trump for example. He has proudly embraced his massive wealth instead of following most politicians’ attempt to appear as ‘regular’ or ‘average’ citizens.
“I don’t need anybody’s money. … I’m using my own money,” Trump said during his campaign announcement speech. “I’m really rich … that’s the kind of mindset, that’s the kind of thinking you need for this country. … We got to make the country rich.”
As for Sanders, he has not tried to run away from his unabashed progressive policies. In his campaign announcement speech, Sanders offered a litany of progressive policies that most traditional politicians would shy away from: single-payer healthcare system, free college education, hefty taxes on wealthy Americans, etc.
The authentic way with which these non-traditional politicians seem to remain true to their beliefs immediately confers them a certain level of trust among the base of their respective political parties. That trusting relationship allows these non-traditional politicians to advocate for populist policies that their core supporters would like to champion.
• P for Populism
Part of the reason why non-traditional politicians have so far been holding their own is they appear to have genuinely embraced the core populist issues that the base of their respective political party favors. And since the authenticity of these non-traditional politicians has earned them the trust of their political base, the base could enthusiastically support these non-traditional politicians. It is no surprise then that base voters on the right would be more willing to trust Trump and base voters on the left would be more willing to trust Sanders to champion the issues the respective base voters care about.
Any attempt by traditional politicians such as Bush, Clinton, and others to co-opt those issues is less likely to receive as enthusiastic a support as the one that base voters give Trump and Sanders.
• E for Emotions
Being authentic and advocating for populist policies would not translate into significant voter support without an emotional connection with the targeted voters. Unlike traditional politicians, what Sanders, Trump, and other non-traditional politicians have achieved so far is their ability to not only display their passion, energy, conviction, and compassion, but also to successfully tap into the anger and resentment many voters have against traditional politicians.
Trump, Sanders, and other non-traditional politicians may ultimately flounder. Traditional politicians such as Clinton, Bush, etc. may still wind up clinching their respective party’s nomination. But, they might not ultimately win the presidency unless they and/or their respective vice presidential running mate go … A.P.E.