July 16th, 2019


Political Lessons of 2016

Dick Morris

By Dick Morris

Published Nov. 14, 2016

Political Lessons of 2016

The 2016 election is heralding a new Republican Party and a sharp reversal of roles. The Democratic Party is now the one for the rich and the GOP is now the party of the less privileged.

But the election also betokens major changes in political science, which any student of the process must examine.

—The era of the negative ad is dying. Hillary Clinton's wall-to-wall attack ads did almost nothing to dent Donald Trump's vote share. She drowned Trump in negative ads, outspending him by more than 5-1, entirely monopolizing the airwaves until the final four weeks of the contest. Yet voters discounted the negatives. When the free media reflected news about Trump — the "Access Hollywood" audiotape or the women who charged him with sexual assault — The Donald's vote share dropped predictably. But when Hillary sought to keep the issues alive through negative ads or to resurrect the embarrassing quotes from Trump's past, it just didn't work. Negatives will continue to be useful in campaigns, but they are diminishing in importance as they are overused and voters come to see them as unreliable sources of information.

—Television advertising, in general, is increasingly ineffective. Hillary dominated the paid media for all of June, July, August and September. It was not until mid or late October that Trump ran ads. The free media and social media so dominated the environment that paid advertising had less of an impact than ever before.

—And, as a result, money lost a lot of its power. As television advertising — by far the leading expense in modern campaigns — became less important, so did the massive sums of money raised by campaigns. Trump was outspent in the primaries by Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and even John Kasich. In the general election, Clinton spent significantly more than Trump did. Yet the money did not make a big difference. Sensing the diminished importance of money, even the Koch Brothers ratcheted back their spending.

—Passion and enthusiasm proved more effective than mechanics in generating turnout. In recent years, the marketplace for political tools has been saturated by various schemes to identify voters, usually based on their lifestyle preferences, and use the information to carefully target the campaign message and pull them out to vote. Campaigns have regularly to allocate hundreds of millions to get out the vote efforts of this sort, outdoing each other in the sophistication of their targeting. In exit polls, twice as many voters reported having been personally contacted by the Clinton campaign as by the Trump campaign. Yet it was Donald Trump who brought droves of new voters to the polls. The passion his message generated — while Hillary Clinton used mechanics to bring out the vote — proved far more effective in getting it done.

Dick Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters.