By Stanley Greenberg
Hillary Clinton’s tragic 2016 campaign faced withering criticism in the press, social media, and now, in Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s inside account, Shattered. From my vantage point as lead pollster for the Democratic nominees in 1992 and 2000, part of the closing clutch of pollsters in 2004, and invited noodge in 2016, I have little quarrel with the harshest of these criticisms. Malpractice and arrogance contributed mightily to the election of Donald Trump and its profound threat to our democracy. So did the handling of the email server, paid Wall Street speeches, and the “deplorables” comment. And her unwillingness to challenge the excesses of big money and corporate influence left her exposed to attacks first by Bernie Sanders and then by Donald Trump and unable to offer credible promise of change.
Astonishingly, the 2016 Clinton campaign conducted no state polls in the final three weeks of the general election and relied primarily on data analytics to project turnout and the state vote. They paid little attention to qualitative focus groups or feedback from the field, and their brief daily poll didn’t measure which candidate was defining the election or getting people engaged.
The campaign’s approach senselessly and increasingly drove up Trump’s margin in white working-class communities, tipping Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the Democratic base wasn’t consolidated or excited, the campaign believed Trump’s tasteless attacks and Clinton’s identification with every group in the rainbow coalition would produce near universal support. Thus, they stopped trying to persuade voters and measured only the probability of support for Hillary. The campaign’s task was turning out those Clinton voters, and they fell frustratingly short.
The fatal conclusion the Clinton team made after the Michigan primary debacle was that she could not win white working-class voters, and that the “rising electorate” would make up the difference. She finished her campaign with rallies in inner cities and university towns. Macomb got the message. “When you leave the two-thirds of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice,” Joan Williams writes sharply in White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.
Additionally, Sanders campaigned against bad trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP to show he’d battle for working people. NAFTA was the work of Bill Clinton and the TPP was a signature initiative of Obama. Hillary Clinton needed some distance. My wife, Representative Rosa DeLauro, headed up the anti-TPP forces in Congress, but despite her incessant lobbying of Podesta, Clinton offered only a muddled opposition.
Obama’s refrain was severely out of touch with what was happening to most Americans and the working class more broadly. In our research, “ladders of opportunity” fell far short of what real people were looking for. Incomes sagged after the financial crisis, pensions lost value, and many lost their housing wealth, while people faced dramatically rising costs for things that mattered—health care, education, housing, and child care. People faced vanishing geographic, economic, and social mobility, as Edward Luce writes so forcefully. At the same time, billionaires spent massively to influence politicians and parked their money in the big cities whose dynamism drew in the best talent from the smaller towns and rural areas.
And in her book What Happened, she acknowledges “Stan’s” argument that “heralding economic progress and the bailout of the irresponsible elites” while the working class struggled financially alienated the working class from Democrats. She says, “That’s another reminder that, despite the heroic work” of Obama, many “didn’t feel the recovery in their own lives.”
About the author: Stan Greenberg has advised the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry, as well as hundreds of other candidates and organizations in the United States, Latin America, Europe and around the world, including Gerhard Schröder, the former Chancellor of Germany, Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, and Joko Widodo, the current President of Indonesia.” – Wikipedia
His wife, Rosa DeLauro, has been a member of Congress for over 25 years.