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US Presidential Election 2016 - Lessons Learned As A Young Fabians US Delegate In Florida

17/11/2016 15:49

I joined the YF US Delegation to Florida to campaign for the Democrats during the US Presidential election as this was an election which not only affected US interests, but also had an impact globally. Having studied a Masters in international relations, and now work with the UN and EU, I had an interest in this election and had seen first-hand the stealth isolationist wave beginning to champion western democracy after June 23.

We flew out to Orlando, Florida on 2 November 2016, with a week to go before the election to central Florida, a key part of a marginal swing State with a significant number of Electoral College votes. We were assigned by the local Democrat Party campaign office to canvass Hunters Creek, in Orange County, which we were told was the third most significant area in the country.

The doorstep
I, as well as most of the delegation, had an intuition that Trump might swing this election (I guess, hence our decision to spend our annual leave volunteering to stop this). Once arriving in Florida, our intuition became confirmed. Around half of the voters I spoke to on the doorstep, said they'd vote for Trump, with a fair number not willing to disclose (interestingly the ones not willing to disclose were always women, signifying a 'shy Trump' vote which may misled pollsters). The results put question marks over our campaigning data, as well as polling data, which was meant to contain 100% Democrat voters. This in turn, undermined our strategy, which was to only target Democrats, as it was not effective to be speaking to Trump voters this late in the game, according to our strategists (I'm not sure if this is true if the election was won in the last week).

One thing that we noted on the doorstep, that we had not predicted was support from all sections of society. We'd been lazy in putting the support for Trump down to a perceived marginal decline in the interest of white, working class men; when the reality was that the people who voted for Trump were Hispanic, black, white, old, young, men or women; and lived in large white picket fenced houses to lower income housing estates.

Resources and strategy
The second turning point, which solidified our prediction was the lack of other volunteers in the area, which was the third most important district in the USA. Outside of our British delegation of 15, there were sporadic shifts of other volunteers from all over the country, but this was thin on the ground. There were hardly any local volunteers. It became clear that there was little flexibility locally, as the campaign was also rigidly controlled from 'the top', and members of our team who'd worked in similar campaigns in the UK (and later, the campaign manager at our local office) conceded that the strategy was weak and not coordinated well. We queried why we weren't shifting to the rust belt, if we'd already lost Florida, or at least another more rural area in Florida, after Orange County looked sure to be going Blue.

In terms of election materials, we could see that the Democrat's leaflets and flyers were not as glossy as that of Trump's. Importantly, Hillary had no signs up, bar a couple outside the Staging Office, whilst Trump had a barrage of 'TRUMP PENCE' signs up all over one of the local polling station (which was curiously a Baptist Church, which may alienate atheists and those of other faiths). This was targeted, efficient and bullish, although potentially pushing the boundaries of electoral rules (since you should not promote a candidate within 50m of a polling station, and these signs were on its lawn). Another worrying fact, was on top of voters having to queue for hours on end on polling day (voters are not allowed to vote if they are not in the queue at 7pm, which has previously meant that many were not able to vote); we heard from one voter, that he had been to vote early three times and had not gotten the chance to vote. From what we could see there were far too many areas which had been assigned only one polling station.

Rallies
The third turning point was attending the Obama Rally in Kissimmee two days ahead of the election. Although the spectacle of the event was incomparable to any political event I've seen in the UK, there was a lack of a sense of hope and optimism, and Obama himself appeared tired after 8 years in office, and spoke his past achievements and the need to elect Hillary to continue his past legacy, rather than to offer something new. There was also no sight of Hillary in Central Florida, who went to Miami a few days before the election, a Democrat stronghold in the State. Meanwhile, Trump offered change, and was darting around the country, staging rallies in New Hampshire and Michigan on the same night, only a couple of days before the election, challenging contested and marginal seats, rather than sticking to safer areas.

Election Night
On the election night it was clear to see early on that we had lost Florida, and many of the 'rust belt' States, which were traditionally Democratic strongholds, had gone red for the first time in decades. Although we had won Orange County at 60.4% of the vote, the majority of the more rural areas of the State had turned Red. The shock and fallout after the election showed that many just could not anticipate the result, and had not been able to comprehend the result. It reminded me of the Brexit result, which unfortunately was not a surprise to most of us in the Delegation (also Labour Party members, who had campaigned for the Brexit Vote), but which took the UK largely unawares, as did the US Presidential election. I'd go as far to say I think this is the key factor in the outcome of the US presidential election. It looked like either complacency or denial to not have campaigned harder earlier on in the election, with many, at home at least, finding the idea of Trump as president no more than a laughable impossibility, rather than a dangerous economic and political threat.

Lessons learned
The key takeaway from the result of the UK EU referendum and the US Presidential election was the fact that it is not only those who lose out to globalization who might want to turn to a more protectionist system, a la Trump, Brexit or possibly, in the future, Le Pen. It is now the majority, as inequality grows, the more 'losers' of globalization there are, and in a democratic system, the more far right governments there will be, until the Left come up with a new narrative for the 21st century. Just as Labour's stagnant position is rooted in the past, Clinton's was 'more of the same'; whilst Trump and Brexit had the air of radical change and catchy slogans. So if there's one thing we've learnt from this election it's that just as the cause of the shift to the right is rooted in a backlash to globalization, so is its solution: a united and cohesive solution to the problems of inequality and economic insecurity globally. The US, UK, and Europe as a whole must learn from these lessons and not continue to laugh off the wave of the populist right. This is a backlash against globalization, inequality and problems with the financial system which have not been addressed in the since the financial crisis, and this should be the battle ground of the left. Instead of finding solutions to Fordist capitalist models, we need to look at the issues centred on the Anglo Saxon model of capitalism, or 'casino capitalism', which rather than impacting just white working class men, affects us all.

Louisa Metcalfe - Young Fabian US Delegate, Chartered Accountant, auditor of UN and EU projects and is holding a YF event in Parliament on 6 December 2016 on reforming wealth taxes, with Richard Murphy, Seema Malhotra, and Andrew Harrop.

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