Change and authenticity: The messages that won over American voters

How did Donald Trump pull off the biggest upset in recent electoral history? A mix of change, authenticity, and social media.

Change, authenticity, and apt use of social media. These three things won Donald Trump the presidency on Tuesday, according to public affairs pros.

In a result that came as a shock to the political and media establishments, Trump compiled 279 electoral votes, flipping loyal Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the process.

Change
In those key states, Trump’s message of change simply resonated better and turned more voters out, according to experts.

"In the end it was a clear-cut message: If you're happy with the status quo, vote her; if you want change, vote for me," says Dan Scandling, senior director of public affairs at APCO Worldwide. "That was what resonated."

Trump’s message of change was built on his political outsider identity and proposals he made during the campaign, like building a wall on the border with Mexico and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Clinton, on the other hand, tied herself closely to President Barack Obama’s policies of the last eight years, often praising his biggest accomplishments such as Obamacare and inviting him to stump for her in the critical last days before the election.

"She never effectively communicated how she was going to make people's lives better beyond hanging her hat on the last eight years," says Aaron Gordon, partner at Schwartz Media.

The message of change resonated two cycles ago in Obama’s first presidential run with the slogan "change we can believe in" – but that was different.

"People want change," said Thomas Doherty, partner at Mercury. "[Obama] had a unique opportunity as the first African-American president, so change was an easy message to sell. [Trump and Obama] said it in a different way. Obama said it in a positive light and Trump used anger to get it across."

Authenticity
Trump turned out one of the largest electoral blocs, the white working class, in force. Eric Bovim, managing partner at Signal, attributes his success to his authenticity and ability to relate to that group, something Clinton lacked.

"He reached them by talking about the world and globalism in terms of winners and losers," Bovim says.

Gordon explains that the confrontational nature of Trump’s campaign drove home the point of authenticity. For instance, Trump didn’t look for the approval of the Republican Party; he was often at odds with it.

Another tactic that worked for Trump: telling it like it is.

"His supporters would say, ‘Trump may be a billionaire jetsetter, but I know where he stands,’" Gordon says. "The way he talks at the microphone is the way he talks behind closed doors."

Clinton, meanwhile, seemed to say one thing in her speeches and another behind the scenes, illustrated in her emails leaked by Wikileaks and "basket of deplorables" comments.

"[The ‘deplorables’ comment] validated what a lot of people who were skeptical had already believed about [Clinton]," Gordon explained. "For people who might've been undecided, that almost validated everything that Trump had been saying all along about her."

Despite Trump’s status as a wealthy New Yorker, his life experiences somehow resonated more with the average person, Scandling contends.

"The population that accepted his words also accepted his bankruptcies because [they think], ‘I lost my job or I lost my house or I may have had some tough times,’" Scandling says. "They looked at Clinton, and I don't think the average American can relate to her. They can relate to bankruptcies, to ‘locker room talk,’ to tough talk on terrorism, and that was difference.’"

Social media
Trump’s preferred vehicle to spread his message was largely his Twitter feed, which unlike Clinton’s, was both an official campaign news source and a place for Trump to vent his unedited thoughts.

"He won the presidency, in large part, because of how he played the media and used social media," Bovim says. "In my view, this is the first virtual presidential campaign in American history."

Trump built his momentum on Twitter, spreading the #MakeAmericaGreatAgain or #MAGA hashtag widely, though sometimes his tweets came back to bite him, like his 3 a.m. tweetstorm against former Miss Universe Alicia Machado.

It was his ability to be authentic both on the campaign trail and on social media that gave Trump an edge this election, Bovim says, while Clinton’s Twitter feed felt more traditional and political.

"There was no ground game [for the Trump campaign]," he adds. "But you can see the mobilizing impact of his Twitter feed and the Clinton campaign didn't do this in the same way. The voter turnout came from his message penetrating on Twitter."

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