It’s less than two weeks before America votes and even Donald Trump admits he is behind. Yet many commentators, from the sober to the provocative, are refusing to buy into a Hillary Clinton victory because of one word: ‘Brexit’.
Here’s some of the scepticism.
The comparison isn’t lost on Trump himself.
He’s had Ukip’s Nigel Farage in his corner during the campaign, a man he’s dubbed “Mr Brexit”. And this week the Republican candidate raised the spectre of Britain’s exit from the European Union - suggesting he’s mapped a Brexit-like route to the White House.
There are two main reasons cited. The media increasingly calling the result for, and is more favourable to, Remain/Clinton in the weeks before the vote, and ‘Brexit’/Trump has played to anti-Establishment populism that pollsters and pundits haven’t grasped.
Plenty of commentators will point to the similarities. But if you look at both in a little detail, stark differences also emerge between the conditions that led to the UK’s breakaway from Europe and Trump potentially moving in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
1. ‘Brexit’ was a slick, professional campaign. Trump’s a bad campaigner.
Sure, rival Leave and Remain campaigns exchanged insults during a flotilla battle on the Thames. But scenes worthy of ‘Carry On ... Brexit’ mask a thoroughly professional operation run by the official Vote Leave campaign.
A strong, simple message - ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ - was strapped to a traditional campaign strategy based on fundamentals that catapulted both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to power, and executed with brutal efficiency. It’s spelled out in a compelling account by Vote Leave’s Tom Waterhouse on how they won the ground and air wars.
Trump’s campaign couldn’t be much more different.
He’s on his third campaign manager, has a fondness for tweeting erroneously at 3am about an ex-Miss Universe’s sex video, and has halted his campaign to promote his hotels. Trump was even reluctant to prepare for the TV debates - disastrous since gaffes have seen his poll rating plummet.
Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ refrain - focusing on the economy and immigration - is bumper sticker-friendly. But the candidate has a habit of going off piste, mocking a disabled reporter, suggesting admiration for Vladimir Putin and indulging many other distractions from vote-winning messages.
A lack of message discipline may be connected to his closest advisers being members of his family, notably son-in-law Jared Kushner, who have little experience of running a campaign.
By contrast, Vote Leave’s origins stem from winning a referendum in the North East of England in 2004, with ‘Brexit’ chief strategist Dominic Cummings instrumental in sinking Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s hopes of elected ‘regional assemblies’. Obscure, long-forgotten, but they knew how to do it.
2. ‘Brexit’ polls changed constantly. Trump has been behind for much longer.
Polling is what most who subscribe to the Trump-’Brexit’ principle seize upon. The thinking goes that the polls failed to correctly predict the referendum result, adding to the industry’s sorrow after getting the 2015 General Election wrong.
In common with most (but not all) surveys in the final week of the campaign, the last YouGov poll published after voting ended suggested a 4-point Remain victory was on the cards. Farage even appeared to concede. Hence the ‘shock’ outcome.
A look back suggests the polls actually swung back and forth. The Financial Times poll tracker, which stretches back to 2010 when Leave had a 14-point lead, suggests as much. This was the last month.
In the aftermath of Clinton taking ill on 9/11, and ahead of the first Presidential debate, Trump narrowed the gap on his rival and was winning in some national polls. But his advantage has since disappeared and Clinton’s lead has even been in the double-digits - certainly not the case for either Leave or Remain in the last month. While the current narrative suggests the US polls are tightening, it’s nothing like Brexit - as the poll trackers below signal.
3. ‘Brexit’ allowed every protest vote to count. Trump protest votes could count for nothing.
Unlike in General Elections under the first-past-the-post electoral system, every vote counted in the EU referendum. Protest votes weren’t lost, as they are in a General. This is why Ukip has just one MP despite harvesting millions of votes.
Trump appears to be drawing from the same well of despair that fueled many voting to Leave. But the US electoral college system means he won’t enjoy the full fruits of this anger. He could stack up huge outrage in safe ‘ruby red’ Republican states but that won’t give him any more electoral college votes.
Plus, the electoral college system favours the Democrats. According to one analysis, based on states that are ‘safe’ or ‘favour’ a candidate, the Democrats can count on 217 electoral college votes, and the Republicans just 191. Winning 270 gets you the keys to the White House.
4. ‘Brexit’ mis-truths were modest. Trump’s mis-truths are never ending.
Much is still made of Vote Leave’s claim that £350 million a week spent on EU membership would go towards the NHS after ‘Brexit’. They even put it on the side of a bus. The figure was criticised repeatedly for being misleading, including by the UK Statistics Authority.
But the sleight of hand looks charming compared to Trump’s whoppers, with some reporters making their careers out of fact-checking his every word.
The New York Times lists these from the first TV debate alone:
He lied about the loan his father once gave him.
He lied about his company’s bankruptcies.
He lied about his federal financial-disclosure forms.
He lied about his endorsements.
He lied about “stop and frisk.”
He lied about “birtherism.”
He lied about New York.
He lied about Michigan and Ohio.
He lied about Palm Beach, Fla.
He lied about Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve.
He lied about the trade deficit.
He lied about Hillary Clinton’s tax plan.
He lied about her child-care plan.
He lied about China devaluing its currency.
He lied about Mexico having the world’s largest factories.
He lied about the United States’s nuclear arsenal.
He lied about NATO’s budget.
He lied about NATO’s terrorism policy.
5. ‘Brexit’ commanded substantial media support. Trump is being hammered from all sides.
The Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Express newspapers were unashamedly pro-Brexit, while the Mirror, Guardian and Times backed Remain. Based on circulation, more newspaper readers were fed a Leave diet.
Trump has few friends in the media outside Fox News, as its own talk-show host and sometime confidante Sean Hannity subtly hinted at.
6. ‘Brexit’ didn’t alienate large swathes of the country. Trump has alienated just about everyone.
The EU referendum was no picnic. At one stage Nigel Farage unveiled a poster of queueing refugees that many thought Hitler would have admired.
But, yet again, Trump goes above and beyond. The New York Times listed 281 “people, places, and things” the nominee has insulted on Twitter, and made a two-page spread from it. The litany includes entire countries.
Trump’s problem with women, essayed by Five Thirty Eight after that 2005 videotape emerged, was not something ‘Brexit’ campaigners had to deal with. They probably concluded annoying half the population was not a good idea.
Trump could win. The polls could be wrong. For the flip-side, Matthew Goodwin makes a persuasive case for Trump tapping into the “nativist populism” evident across Europe, not just the UK.
But saying Trump will win because of ‘Brexit’ ignores a lot of how ‘Brexit’ was actually won, and feels like comparing apples with pears and concluding what this means for bananas.