My Readout On 2016's Trump Surprise

So how did the big media and polling outlets get it so wrong? A big part of the issue was in the failure of the traditional systems to account for the new national identity based on specific values that are a powerful driver of voting behavior.

Back when there were some two-dozen hopefuls at the start of the 2016 presidential primaries, I believed the edge would go to the candidate who most closely identified as the “changemaker” in the field. That’s because changemaker qualities — an innovative mind, a service heart, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a collaborative outlook — embody the new bedrock values running through the whole electorate. We see these attributes in ourselves, and they are central to the national identity that was validated with Barack Obama’s election in '08.

The 2016 contest was confused around this point. Pollsters didn't account for the Changemaker Effect in their surveys; the media didn't report through that lens; and this crop of candidates didn’t appeal to us as changemakers. Trump did run an unconventional campaign, however, which decisively differentiated him in one regard from all the other candidates. This likely ticked a box for many voters searching for the changemaker in the race. But the conventional measurements simply did not pick up on these undercurrents.

The cleaner match between Obama as a candidate and the high national premium placed on the changemaker value-set offered a clearer choice for voters in 2008, while it was muddied in this election.


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