Are you surprised about the election results?
No, it was obvious that it would be a tight race, however, predicting the outcome would have been impossible for either party. Having access to multiple communities is key to understanding this outcome. I am not surprised at the results, because I was aware of the discrepancies in the mainstream media’s reports. They often reported information we expect to hear, rather than what is unexpected. For example, when they discuss Trump’s remarks about Muslims, they paint a picture of the Muslim and Middle Eastern communities united against Trump. Based on some of his remarks, such a conclusion might be expected, but because they did not report the whole story, this could not be farther from the truth. Not that these communities necessarily support Trump, but many Middle Easterners resent Clinton’s role in the Middle East, labeling her as a warmonger. What gave Trump the advantage was the resentment so many people had for Clinton and The Establishment.
Why in your opinion pollsters and commentators did not predict the victory of Trump? Is the filter filter bubble theory able to explain this failure?
Yes, to a certain extent, this is possible. The filter bubble concept describes the filtered information we receive on the internet based on our internet activity. As I said before, this victory is not a surprise, nor could it have been predicted. If measures had been taken to better evaluate the Trump supporters’ motives for voting for him, the reports could have reflected the general sentiment across the nation. The filter bubble may have played a role in why so many people are surprised at the election results.
Commentators had the opportunity to address the opposing views of the public simply by using the candidates’ own remarks to evaluate the strength of their support and opposition. For example, when Clinton made her “puppet” remark in reference to Trump’s relationship with Putin, the media did very little to highlight the mass reaction from those who took her own “puppet” label and applied it to her in reference to her relationship with the Saudi and Qatari regimes. These mostly came from the Middle Eastern communities throughout the nation. When I say Middle Eastern, that not only includes Arabs, but non-Arab communities such as Western Armenians, Arameans, etc.. Not all communities openly discuss their political positions unless with the purpose to enlighten others about their reasons. The Clinton campaign completely overlooked these kinds of factors which helped to propel Trump’s position in the race. If the campaign staff failed to catch these factors, the commentators’ observations could have been useful to Clinton had the media addressed them.
Even the Trump campaign did not take advantage of the all communities that were planning on voting for him. Had they done so, the popular vote could have been increased with a carefully executed communication campaign targeting those massive communities. Trump’s team does not include a single member who can provide him with access to the views of these groups. Trump has various ethnic backgrounds represented on his team, but there is a difference between having members of some groups on your team versus having access to the views of those communities. This is one reason why it is imperative for political candidates to have at least one or two staff members who have access to the views of multiple communities. That being said, it is not enough to have a bi-lingual, tri-lingual, or multi-lingual staff member, or members who know people from various communities. Having friends or acquaintances of different backgrounds will not provide you the same kind of access to their views as being regarded as one of their own. The point is, the filter bubble cannot be ruled out as a contributing element in overestimating the support for Clinton.
With your recent paper “Western Media Coverage of the Syrian Crisis” you say that the White House applied the three paradigms of agenda setting, agenda building and framing, to cultivate the desired impression of this crisis.
Did Trump and Clinton apply the same approach during the electoral campaign in your opinion?
I think the Clinton campaign did more so than the Trump campaign. The Clinton strategy was predictable. In other words, they played it safe and utilized the methods that have been successful in the past. They used traditionally effective communication strategy to gain support. It was the application of agenda setting, agenda building and framing that helped her get that far in the race. Even with the Wikileaks damage, that strategy was effective, but not successful in this case. What Clinton did not count on was the impact of her track record in government and the unfeeling reputation she had acquired. Even if a politician or diplomat has an undesirable track record, communication strategists can improve that image. The problem is when a politician or diplomat is associated with activity linked to destructive results, such as war.
In Clinton’s case, there were a number of activities that took place during her time as Secretary of State. The so-called “Arab Spring” placed her center stage by highlighting her role in world affairs. Everything from her unseemly reaction upon receiving the news of Muammar Gaddafi’s death in 2011 to the 2016 presidential debates, where she pushed for more aggressive military action in Syria, confidence in Clinton’s judgment diminished over time. One of the most damaging was her actions leading up to the 2012 Benghazi attack that resulted in the deaths of American diplomats. The requests for more security were ignored. These diplomats were posted by the U.S. government to an extremely dangerous location. They were not armed military personnel, they were unarmed diplomats. The lives of these American diplomats were unnecessarily sacrificed. Clinton’s failure to make security a priority for these American diplomats portrayed an image of someone who is indifferent or unconcerned about human life. This is an image she could not shake throughout the presidential campaign.
Do you see similarities between the Trump voters and the Leavers who voted for the Brexit last June?
Absolutely. When the status quo leaves much to be desired, society will be more receptive to the opportunity for a major change. Among those who voted for Trump are those who gave up on the system or felt the system gave up on them. When given the choice for change, it is that hope for improvement that motivates the voter.
Lisa Lehimdjian is a predoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University and a Political Scientist and Communication Analyst at the Arab Center for Cyberspace Research (ACCR).
She has an MS in Political Science and her research interests are in international affairs, petroleum politics, political warfare, power politics, and political history. Ms. Lehimdjian’s regional specialization is the Middle East with an emphasis on Syria. As a first generation American of Armenian descent with roots in the Middle East, her interest in the Arab world is both personal and academic.