With a held breath I’m following the unfolding of the American presidential race this year. Unusually, there is a genuine uncertainty this time as to how the race will develop and who will ultimately win.
It feels as if the lithospheric plates of American politics have began to shift. The unlikely figures, Trump and Sanders, are rocking the stage on both sides of the aisle. What gives? The answer is simple. The internet revolution has finally reached the American political mind.
The trick that both parties used to play with the electorate was essentially to promote whatever sells and then to implement an ulterior agenda while in power, sometimes completely ignoring the population’s preferences. The Republicans would concentrate the voters’ ire on culture wars and limited government while pushing through the agenda of expanding military spending and drastically cutting taxes on the superrich. The Democrats would focus on liberal social policies while decisively deregulating the financial sector and bailing out banks at taxpayer’s cost. Both parties essentially serving the interests of moneyed elites while largely ignoring the preferences of the electorate in key areas.
That’s no longer possible. The age of (more) perfect information finally affects the United States. People like Trump and Sanders now have an unprecedented direct connection to the voters. In different ways, both of them are products of the information revolution. Trump is the emperor of the media in general and the social media in particular, deftly using both to amplify his message. A message sensibly tailored to the widely shared actual preferences of the Republican voters. Sanders is the king of online fundraising. Both insistently position themselves as not soiled by any super-PAC connection, as if super-PACs were some dirty underworld creatures. Citizens United has been neutralized by the internet revolution.
Trump has skilfully exploited the divide between the voters’ preferences and the official position taken by the party. As an example, the Republican establishment has endorsed the issue of immigration as an area of a convenient political compromise. Turns out, voters would have none of it. GOP politicians were not afraid of hammering on about the deficit, transparently preparing the ground for cutting social programs. But there is no support for touching Medicare or Medicaid among the electorate.
With an equal vigour, Sanders has endorsed Elizabeth Warren-style anti-rich rants. He is an authentic messenger for this creed, in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton. Her ties to financial services industry go back to her husband’s presidency and continue over the years as a steady stream of campaign contributions and speaking fees. Her credibility as an anti-inequality crusader is questionable at best.
Ultimately, the reason why Trump is the overwhelming favourite now to win the Republican nomination is the fact that he represents the voters’ preferences in the way that other candidates don’t. Will Sanders win on the Democratic side? Hillary Clinton is a mediocre politician who was propelled into the pole position by being uniquely connected to two former presidents. She has nevertheless amassed a solid lead in several key metrics: recognition, minority support, supercandidates and endorsements, money. This lead may be too large for Sanders to overcome. But watch out for the power of information technology revolution. Once he wins both Iowa and New Hamphshire, Bern she will feel.
My prediction for the general election: Trumps beats Hillary in a walk.