RESEARCH WORK. COMPARING DONALD TRUMP’S ELECTORAL CAMPAIGNS IN 2016 AND 2020
The presidential campaigns of Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 were notable for their controversial and unconventional strategies. In this article, we will compare and contrast the key differences between these two campaigns, including their messaging, campaign strategies, and voter demographics. We will examine the ways in which Trump’s campaign adapted to changing circumstances and how these adaptations impacted the election outcomes.
Comparing Donald Trump’s Electoral Campaigns in 2016 and 2020
First of all, it is very important to reflect on Donald Trump’s social and political activities before the elections. From the 1980s Trump periodically mused in public about running for president, but those moments were widely dismissed in the press as publicity stunts. In 1999 he switched his voter registration from Republican to the Reform Party and established a presidential exploratory committee. Though he ultimately declined to run in 2000, he published a book that year, The America We Deserve, in which he set forth his socially liberal and economically conservative political views. Trump later rejoined the Republican Party, and he maintained a high public profile during the 2012 presidential election. Although he did not run for office at that time, he gained much attention for repeatedly and falsely claiming that Democratic Pres. Barack Obama was not a natural-born U.S. citizen.
Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination in 2016 was initially seen as something of a long shot, but the New York businessman’s outsider status, mastery of the media, and no-holds-barred campaign style propelled him to the front of the field.
After this, in June 2015 Trump announced that he would be a candidate in the U.S. presidential election of 2016. Pledging to “make America great again,” a slogan advertised widely on the red hats that he and his supporters wore at his rallies—although hated by Trump’s detractors, the red hats were one of the most successful examples of colour branding in marketing history.
States that were critical to Trump’s victory in the primaries include New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, New York, and Indiana.
Focal points of Trump’s campaign included strengthening U.S. immigration laws, renegotiating or withdrawing from international trade deals, a more aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East, lowering taxes, and repealing financial and environmental regulations.
It is worth to mentioning that Donald Trump attached great importance to domestic affairs.
Trump’s domestic platform focused heavily on immigration and scaling back environmental regulations. He proposed strengthening U.S. immigration laws. Moreover, he pushed for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the costs of which he says the Mexican government will cover.
Another important point should be emphasized. He said that he supports “traditional marriage” and argued that states should decide whether transgender people should use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. Expressing a clear position on such a sensitive issue for the given period was quite an influential step on his part.
It’s to be outlined that Trump supported cutting taxes at all levels, and his opposition to international free-trade deals was a trademark of his campaign. His tax proposals included cuts at all income levels, an end to the estate tax, and a tax deduction for childcare expenses. He called international trade deals like NAFTA and TPP “a disaster” and pushed for increased tariffs on imports.
Trump promoted what he calls an “America First” approach to foreign affairs and national security. This approach involved potentially reassessing U.S. commitments to NATO countries, a more aggressive foreign policy in the fight against the Islamic State and in the war on terror, and increases in military spending. Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country from nations with “a history of exporting terrorism,” and he advocated for what he calls “extreme vetting” of Muslims visiting the U.S. Trump voiced support for using enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, and he criticized the Iran deal, calling it a “bad deal.” Trump also called for improving U.S. relations with Russia by finding “common ground” in the fight against the Islamic State.
In 2016, Donald Trump’s election campaign was focused on domestic affairs, but foreign affairs also needed to be seriously addressed and solutions proposed. This circumstance became even more important because he was talking about serious transformations․
It’s worth mentioning that Trump spoke about the need for changes in NATO, which, since its creation, has been the most important component of the US foreign and security policy. Moreover, he emphasized a certain scope of cooperation with Russia in the event that there was already a rather serious crisis in the relations between the United States and Russia.
In terms of voter demographics, Trump’s campaign in 2016 was focused on winning over working-class white voters, particularly in the Midwest. He also targeted evangelical Christians and other conservative voters who had become disillusioned with the Republican Party.
The Trump campaign made extensive use of social media platforms, notably Twitter, to reach voters. Unlike other candidates, Trump’s Twitter and Facebook posts linked to news media rather than the campaign site as part of his strategy to emphasize media appearance over volunteers and donations. Therefore, it can be concluded that social networks played a significant role during Trump’s election campaign.
First of all, I would like to point out that before the 2016 US elections, very few people were talking about the influence of social media on politics and the final results of elections.
Facebook, Twitter and Google played a far deeper role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign than has previously been disclosed, with company employees taking on the kind of political strategizing that campaigns typically entrust to their own staff or paid consultants.
While the companies call it standard practice to work hand-in-hand with high-spending advertisers like political campaigns, the new research details how the staffers assigned to the 2016 candidates frequently acted more like political operatives, doing things like suggesting methods to target difficult-to-reach voters online, helping to tee up responses to likely lines of attack during debates, and scanning candidate calendars to recommend ad pushes around upcoming speeches. Such support was critical for the Trump campaign, which didn’t invest heavily in its own digital operations during the primary season and made extensive use of Facebook, Twitter and Google “embeds” for the general election, says the study, conducted by communications professors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Utah.
Brad Parscale, Trump’s digital media director in 2016, put it: “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing. In the interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes, Trump himself declared: “I think I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have social media.”
These thoughts, articles, and other data clearly show how important social media was in the 2016 election (especially for Donald Trump). To sum up, they made it possible to carry out the election campaign more quickly, to work more efficiently, to deliver messages to the target audience more easily.
Let’s now consider what transformations Donald Trump’s election campaign has undergone in 2020.
Firstly, I want to mention that Trump’s re-election campaign focused on the economy, jobs, immigration, and foreign policy. He described his platform, which he named America First, during his inaugural address: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.”
It is important to note that this time Trump gave more importance to foreign affairs than domestic affairs.
Donald Trump’s campaign website says, “President Trump has gone around the globe working to restore America’s prominence in global diplomacy. South Korea and Japan pledged to build closer defense collaboration with the United States, and the President underscored the commitment of the United States to providing advanced military equipment. In Saudi Arabia, President Trump pushed for a coalition of nations to confront Iran and attended the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. President Trump followed through on his promise and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and directed the relocation of the U.S. Embassy. Under President Trump, the United States has worked tirelessly to combat extremism and stick up for religious minorities.”
On Donald Trump’s campaign website, information was given on many issues about what works were done during his presidency and what results it produced. It is worth to mentioning that, in contrast to 2016, when Trump did not hold a high-ranking state position, in this case there was an opportunity to cover the activities performed during the period of the president’s office as actively as possible. And this circumstance was a serious change compared to the previous election campaign.
It is interesting to note that one of the key changes in Trump’s campaign in 2020 was a shift in focus from economic issues to law and order and “socialist” policies. His team also made increased use of digital advertising and direct mail to reach voters who were unable to attend rallies or other campaign events due to the pandemic.
Another significant shift in Trump’s campaign in 2020 was a change in target demographics. While Trump continued to focus on his core base of working-class white voters, he also made a concerted effort to win over rural and suburban voters who had previously voted for Democrats.
Trump emerged victorious on election night in 2016, flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida into Republican territory.
Likewise to win, Biden flipped Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District. Biden is the first Democrat to flip Georgia since President Bill Clinton in 1992 and the first to win in Arizona since 1996.
Trump was defeated because of his “failure to connect on the thing that voters most cared about, which was coronavirus,” says Sarah Longwell, founder of Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT). While legions lost jobs, closed businesses, refrained from hugging their aging parents and homeschooled their children, “what Trump did was decide to pretend like coronavirus wasn’t the most dominant thing in people’s lives,” Longwell says. This is very important information to show which election campaign led to which result.
Another key difference between the two campaigns was the use of social media. In 2016, Trump’s use of Twitter was seen as a key factor in his success, allowing him to bypass the mainstream media and speak directly to his supporters. In 2020, however, his use of social media became a liability, with many of his posts being flagged as false or misleading.
In fact, this circumstance is an indicator of how important the role of social networks was in the framework of election campaigns. In one case, the use of social networks helped to win elections, in another, it had the opposite effect.
The voter demographics and turnout in the 2016 and 2020 elections were also quite different. In 2016, Trump’s campaign was successful in winning over working-class white voters, particularly in the Midwest. He also saw increased support from evangelical Christians and other conservative voters.
In 2020, however, Trump’s support among these groups was somewhat diminished. He was able to win over some new voters, particularly in rural.
To conclude, it is worth mentioning that the two election campaigns were quite different. One of the important conditions here was, of course, the general situation in the USA and outside the USA.
If we talk about social networks, it should be noted that in 2016 they were not so studied in the context of the elections and Trump and his team used it for the victory. The most influential factor related to 2020 was the epidemic that caused many problems, from economic to social. This factor had a rather serious impact on the final results of the elections. Therefore, it can be assumed that Trump, during his election campaign, could not mitigate the influence of this factor to a large extent.
Author: Aram Melkonyan