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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur

The lessons of the 2016 US elections

In this Era characterized by the rejection of the global elites, one must be careful not to draw universal lessons from the recent US elections. After all, in most other countries, Mrs. Clinton would have won.

Despite that caveat, there are lessons, not just for the US but for other political systems.

The first lesson, obviously, is that for some reason, polls have become increasingly unreliable. Except for 1948, when pollsters had uniformly predicted a Dewey victory only for Truman to win a surprise victory, US Presidential election polls have been generally accurate. This year's polling malfunction, together with the miss on Brexit means that for the foreseeable future, there will be less reliance on polls.
The second lesson, which is a reaffirmation of an old lesson, is that turnout matters.

While Trump got nearly half a million votes less than Romney did in 2012, Hillary got about 5 million votes less than Obama did 4 years earlier!. To add insult to injury, 4 million more voters supported third party candidates than they had 4 years earlier. And she lost them in places where it hurt. I guess the celebrities could not increase the turnout after all. This was similar to the role that turnout played in Nigeria in 2015 and Ghana in 2008. In Nigeria's 2015 election, there was a 25% drop in total votes. The governing PDP lost a whopping 43% of its votes, dropping from 22 to nearly13 million while the APC increased from 12 to 15 million. Thus the main factor in the APC victory, was the collapse in support of the PDP. In Ghana in 2008, during the first round, the opposition Presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, missed a first round victory by a hundred thousand votes. Later analysis showed that due to low enthusiasm, over half a million voters from the opposition NPP stronghold of Ashanti had not bothered to vote. 4 out of every 5 of those half a million votes would have made the opposition candidate President. The moral here is to get your supporters to vote. If Hillary's supporters had bothered to vote in the same numbers as they did for Obama, they would be celebrating instead of protesting Trump's victory.
The third lesson is that personal attacks are no substitute for cogent policy positions. While Trump made immigration, trade, corruption and change his signature issues, the Democrats made Trump's perceived character flaws and his suitability for office their main issue. In the end, the voters decided that Trump's issues trumped Trump's character flaws. This was similar to the Nigerian election of 2015 when the PDP focused on Buhari's character flaws and previous human rights abuses while he focused on change. Change won.

Finally, we learned that one must tempered in his remarks about opponents. Both Hillary and President Obama openly asserted that Trump was "unfit to be President". It must have stuck in President Obama's craw when he had to welcome Trump to the oval office and call him, the President-elect!

These lessons must be learned. They are universal and they will be bourne out, again, in Ghana this year, Nigeria in 2019 and the US in 2020.

Those who ignore history, the sages say, are condemned to repeat its tragedies.
Arthur K

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