Democrats need to get real about how and why America votes

Say goodbye to the folk theory of democracy, folks

Steve Genco
12 min readMay 14, 2022

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Democrats used to be under the impression that they knew how to win Presidential elections. But 2016 changed all that.

Clinton’s defeat, Trump’s win: The end of an illusion

Hillary Clinton held all the cards that should have predicted an easy victory. She was the best qualified candidate. She presented the most optimistic vision for America. Her campaign had more money than her opponent. She produced better advertising and was able to spread it across more states. She had the best ground game, with dozens more offices and hundreds more volunteers in key states. She had an all-star cast of popular and charismatic surrogates. She achieved three overwhelming debate victories. And she seemed to be winning throughout the campaign, with pollsters giving her anywhere from a 64% to 99% chance of beating Trump in the Electoral College.

Meanwhile the Trump campaign presented a textbook case of how to lose a Presidential election … not just lose-lose, but Barry Goldwater-lose. The candidate was obnoxious, overbearing, divisive, and pessimistic about America. He spent little money and was abandoned by traditional Republican big money donors, as well as by most of the traditional Republican leadership. His nominating convention was a scary joke. He mounted essentially no advertising and had no ground game. He fielded an inexperienced, incompetent campaign team.

Despite all this, Trump won. How could this possibly have happened? There is only one place to look for an answer, and it is in the thought processes and behavior patterns of the American electorate.

Say goodbye to the folk theory of democracy, say hello to identity group politics

For decades, there has been a “folk theory of democracy” that ascribes great powers of analysis and wisdom to the American people. The idea is that people have opinions on issues and policies. They then compare those opinions to the positions of candidates for office and choose the candidate who comes closest to their preferences on issues they care most about. By this theory, enough…

Steve Genco

Steve is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019) & Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013). He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University.