I personally don’t think that Donald Trump will win the Presidential election. I’ve said this ever since he announced his candidacy, and although by winning the Republican nomination he proved me wrong to a certain extent, I stand by my original prediction.
With Hillary Clinton surging to a lead of 11 percent in post-debate polling byNBC News and The Wall Street Journal, a Trump victory seems to be more unlikely than ever before. Nonetheless, I’ve lost track of the amount of times that I have read something which suggests that Trump ability to win is being massively underestimated, much like the way in which most people (me included) underestimated the ability of the Leave campaign to win in the EU Referendum. Generally this argument seems to rest upon the so-called ‘huge similarities’ between the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign, with these similarities allegedly suggesting that the victory for the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum foreshadowed a Trump victory in November.
At first glance this rings true. On the surface, there are indeed some superficial similarities between the two campaigns.
Both campaigns have been led by charismatic individuals. Trump himself is inarguably charismatic, whilst the leading Leave campaigners — Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and erm…Michael Gove, managed to successfully pitch themselves in a more charismatic and optimistic way to their opponents on the Remain side.
In addition, both campaigns were built on a base of support which strongly felt that immigration had spun out of control and fundamentally altered the identity of their respective countries, and which is hugely distrustful of the so-called political elite.
But, when you dig a little deeper, these similarities end.
Firstly, the arguments of the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign are not as similar as has often been suggested. Trump is vehemently against anti-free trade, and advocates strong protectionist measures. This wasn’t the argument of the Leave campaign. They were just as in favour of free-trade as the Remain campaign, where the two campaigns differed was simply how this goal could be best achieved. In addition, the political elite which Trump supporters distrust is based at home in Washington; in contrast to the Leave campaign, whose quarrel was with unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. In short, the US election is not a debate about sovereignty in the same way the EU Referendum was.
Secondly, the rhetoric surrounding the campaigns is very different. The Leave campaign was strongly in favour of reducing immigration. But, aside from Nigel Farage standing in front of some despicable posters, the Leave campaigners weren’t overtly racist. Donald Trump on the other hand, has consistently offered racist and xenophobic views; including the labelling of Mexicans as ‘rapists and thieves’, his suggestion that Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican ancestry precluded him from being fair, his suggestion that he saw Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and his long running campaign suggesting that Barack Obama isn’t an American. Add this to his seeming indifference to sexual harassment and his admiration for Vladimir Putin; and you’ve got a candidate who many people can’t morally bring themselves to vote for. Even those who agree with Trump on the economy and energy policy for example, can’t bring themselves to vote for a candidate who is so overtly racist, and who will nominate a Supreme Court justice who will roll back minority rights so significantly.
Thirdly, perhaps the main reason that Brexit doesn’t foreshadow a Trump victory, is that the UK and US electorates are not directly comparable. Trump main base of support comes from white males, the same base of support that the Leave campaign could draw upon. However, the main difference is that in the UK, 87 percent of the electorate is non-Hispanic white, compared with just 63 percent in the US. In the EU Referendum, ethnic minority groups voted overwhelmingly to remain, however the electorate simply wasn’t diverse enough for this to make a tangible difference. In the US, it is estimated that more than 30 percent of the electorate will be part of an ethnic minority group. Throughout the Presidential campaign, most polls have fluctuated between the two candidates. However, one poll which hasn’t changed, is that ethnic minority voters have an extremely unfavourable view of Donald Trump. Given the high number of ethnic minority voters in the US, this can make a tangible difference on the result, unlike in the EU Referendum.
In addition, anti-EU sentiment had been brewing in the UK for many years, whereas Trump is a new phenomenon. Many in the Leave campaign had been working for years to cultivate sympathy for a leave vote, and this helped hugely when it came to the referendum. There is also the fact that even many of those who supported remain, were lukewarm in their feelings about the EU. This isn’t the case with Trump. Those who oppose him, are vehemently against almost everything he stands for, and will turn out to vote to ensure that he doesn’t become President. Those who support Trump at this election won’t go away overnight. In fact, they will perhaps offer their biggest challenge at the next Presidential election, where an individual more palatable to the wider electorate can act as their standard bearer. This was effectively the case in the UK for a long time. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) had been building support for years, but hit a wall in part because the vast majority of people couldn’t bring themselves to cast a vote for a divisive figure like Nigel Farage. Indeed, Vote Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings said this week that Farage’s unpopularity came extremely close to them losing the referendum, and that excluding him from the wider campaign was key to their victory.
Donald Trump’s unpopularity is on another level to Nigel Farage. Although Trumpian politics may take root for years to come, they won’t be electorally successful until someone less divisive than Trump is found to be the standard bearer (maybe Mike Pence in 2020?).
Finally, it would be wrong not to consider the differences in the democratic mechanism used for the EU Referendum and the mechanism that will be used for the presidential election. In the referendum, the traditional UK constituency boundaries didn’t feature. This meant that there were no ‘safe seats’, and every vote counted. The US Electoral College system is different, as it means that the campaign can be primarily fought in the swing states. The election will mostly be decided in Ohio, Colorado, and Florida; rather than through a nationwide popular vote. This gives a huge advantage to the more organised and strategic campaign, and there is little doubt that this is the Clinton campaign. The way the Electoral College is set up gives a huge advantage to the Democrats. Since 1992, there are eighteen states (plus the District of Columbia) which have been won by the Democrats every time. Between them, these states encompass 242 electoral college votes, very close to the 270 required for victory. Hillary Clinton only needs to win a couple of the swing states to become President. Donald Trump on the other hand, needs to hold all of the states won by Romney in 2012, plus win all of the major swing states. This would be an extremely difficult task even for the most popular of nominees. For Trump it is nigh on impossible. Whereas the format of the referendum gave the Leave campaign a clear road to victory, the same cannot be said for Trump in this presidential campaign.
So, although there are certainly some similarities on the surface, Brexit certainly doesn’t suggest a Trump victory. So stop saying it does!