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[Commentary] Two Candidates, Two Strategies — Who Is Motivating Voters?

Voter enthusiasm is high, if early turnout is any indication. There are two major party candidates in competition for the seat, and both have one goal: to make sure their supporters cast a ballot. Their strategies to reach that goal are strikingly opposite.

voter motivation
[Photo by MORRY GASH,JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images]

Of course, there’s the obvious difference in campaign strategy. Trump is holding massive rallies and attacking those he perceives as enemies, while Biden holds small events and presents policies, plans, and promises. However, there’s also a difference in how they’re approaching poll results, and what they’re telling their supporters to expect as an outcome.

In a way, both strategies are the same — both candidates are telling the public not to believe the polls, anyway. However, that’s not really the same strategy when it comes from a candidate leading in polls, as it is when it comes from one flailing.

Joe Biden tweeted earlier this month to tell his supporters not to believe the polls, specifically citing one that showed him leading by 16 points nationally. He’s said it before — and let’s be honest, “I’ll won’t win without your help” is a pretty typical campaign fundraising message, from any candidate. Still, Biden’s overall message is clear — this win is not a sure thing, no matter what you’re hearing from pundits, seeing in polls, or reading in comment sections from people who foresee a “blue wave.”

By contrast, when Donald Trump tells his followers not to believe polls, he’s telling them that they can expect a better outcome for him than the numbers show. He reflects on 2016, when this was absolutely true — polls led a lot of Americans to expect a crushing defeat by Hillary Clinton, and instead, despite losing the popular vote, Trump took a win through the electoral college. When he does want people to believe polls, they’re any that he can find with a positive outlook — a Rasmussen Presidential Approval poll, or the one he keeps citing with more than 90% approval in the Republican party, for which he has never given, and no one has been able to find, any source.

What’s the cause of these two different strategies — one candidate insisting that his followers should believe he’s doing better than the numbers show, and the other asking voters not to get complacent?

Some of it is likely actually because of the polls — when FiveThirtyEight is only giving you 12 chances in 100 to win based on their statistical analysis, your job is to keep supporters from fleeing what might look like a sinking ship. By comparison, if all the polls show you leading, it’s rational to try to avoid becoming — or allowing your supporters to become — complacent.

Of course, Trump has worked throughout the process to delegitimize the election — there’s the obvious possibility that his goal is different from Biden’s. Rather than winning by convincing his fans to vote, he could hope to merely convince them he’s winning, in order to overturn the election results, either through legal challenges or other methods, if he loses.

Is it just coincidence, though, that these behaviors also reflect the personality traits we see in the candidates? A candidate who needs constant soothing of his ego demands that everyone around him believe he’s winning at everything — as he has since well before he took office. He’s claiming victory before the election, certainly, but he always claims victories he hasn’t actually achieved — such as when he claimed he’d been given multiple Nobel Peace Prizes, before admitting he was nominated, not awarded.

Joe Biden is a complete contrast to that — though he’s clearly got confidence in his plans for the presidency, he approaches the election with humility. Rather than boastful certainty, his is an air of preparation to do hard work and earn every vote. It’s not an attitude of entitlement to the office, or to anything else — instead, Biden gives every appearance of hoping he can earn the position, because he believes in what he can do with it.



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