Over the weekend one political correspondent suggested that Hillary Clinton’s tendency to “tough things out” might cost her the election. I think it’s fair to say, as others have, that Clinton is not a “transformational” candidate and would not attempt to make radical changes to government if she became president. Despite the rhetoric from the far right, Clinton is essentially an “incrementalist improver,” regardless of what her supporters or detractors claim. She wants to make further progress on the issues important to her, as she has outlined in fairly extensive detail. She is not suggesting major changes. Trump would try to make broad, dramatic, and sweeping changes, although it’s highly unlikely that he’d have much success, for reasons I’ve outlined in past blogs.
But the election isn’t coming down to what either candidate can or cannot do. It’s coming down to the commitment of their supporters, and those supporters are going to be moved more and more by emotion in the coming weeks.
Currently, most polls have the two candidates in a virtual deadlock, but there’s one area where Trump has a significant advantage – and that’s in the commitment of supporters. According to a poll cited on CBS news, 90% of those eligible to vote favoring Trump are determined to vote, while slightly less than 80% of those favoring Clinton are determined to vote. Assuming that the current polls are correct, if voter sentiment remains close to even and those commitment levels hold up, Trump will win, and it may not even be close.
Clinton’s problem is that incremental improvement doesn’t motivate people as much as the great and sweeping statements made by Trump. And while I won’t claim to speak for anyone, from my perspective, it seems as though, among those who seem to be key to her election: (1) black voters are getting tired of incrementalism and want more dramatic and effective efforts to remove the remaining discriminatory impediments that disproportionately affect the black community; (2) younger Americans want decisive action on improving education, lowering the costs of education that students and their families bear, and improving job opportunities for younger workers; and (3) a great many women, especially younger women, are tired of the continuing pay and opportunity gap between men and women, unhappy with the continuing number of glass ceilings that are all too infrequently broken, if broken at all, and want more than incremental change that never seems to solve the problems they face.
I’d submit that Clinton’s incrementalism simply isn’t motivating those who should be her supporters to the same degree that Trump’s sweeping and emotional appeals are motivating his supporters. Part of this is because incremental improvement doesn’t lend itself to sound bites, and most people find the recitation of facts boring. Part of it is that people want to see that their candidate is passionate about his or her beliefs. And part of it is that “toughing it out” is a mindset all too foreign to younger voters, who want immediate change, and they want it now.
One of Trump’s “strengths” is that he clearly believes whatever he’s saying at the moment, even if he changes his mind later. He’s very much “in the moment.” Hillary Clinton isn’t nearly that much “in the moment,” and she continues to act as though her long and dedicated effort to what she believes in speaks louder than emotional promises, but most people don’t see the work she’s done and don’t think that the past speaks to the present. They only see the images, and today images speak far more than substance.
“Toughing it out” might work for Clinton, but I have very strong doubts that it’s going to be effective in this election.