On August the 21st, 1858 Abraham Lincoln said:
Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.
Donald Trump and pro-Brexit politicians such as Nigel Farange and Boris Johnson have benefitted from Lincoln's assertion. Others haven't learned from it. Some even insist on addressing public sentiment from a rational perspective. They throw facts and arguments at the people, thinking they can change public mood with information. Public sentiment is not rational, it's emotional. I hate to point out the obvious but after all, it is a sentiment. Or does anyone think with their heart and feel with their mind? Can one easily think one's way out of sentiments of defeat, impotence, anxiety or fear?
Here we are, wondering how Trump gained millions of supporters or why the pro-Brexit politicians won, since in both cases their arguments don't make sense and there is a battery of logical reasons, facts and examples that clearly contradict them? Well, again, it's not rational, it's emotional.
In Britain, the English (not the Scottish or the Irish, the English) have been closet anti-Europeans since the creation of the EU. No surprises there. They were never very convinced about the Schengen Treaty to allow the free transit of people so they stayed out of it. They were skeptical about the Euro so they kept the Pound. And then there are the stereotypes and so on. They see themselves as the heart and soul of Britain, the Great Britain. They were an empire but their sentiment is that they still are. They feel uncomfortable sharing sovereignty with Brussels or being part of the EU because that doesn't fit their mood. Fair enough. So some politicians took that mood and fed it with prejudices and fears of immigrants taking their jobs or Britain having to take Syrian refugees that could be terrorists for example. Despite the solid arguments in favor of the "remain", regardless of Cameron's renegotiation of the conditions with Europe and even after one prominent and charismatic politician who supported the "remain" was murdered, the Brexit won. So far the consequences of the Brexit are as bad as they anticipated. It turns out that the pessimistic scenarios were true. So how come the Brexit won despite the multiple arguments and clear warnings?
The British voted in favor of Brexit with their hearts, not with their minds. And in the case of Trump, the supporters who are backing him are also motivated by their sentiment.
In general, voting for someone or something is not essentially a rational decision made after a thorough process of reflection and assessment of the options or based on analysis of the facts, campaign platforms and consequences. Most people vote for someone or something predominantly motivated by emotional factors, with some facts in mind. In general, they vote for values and principles, not for complex proposals. They support those who validate their views and empathize with them. Liking the candidate (or disliking the opponent) is a must. Understanding the public sentiment and addressing it is the key to winning. Yes, the key.
Effective communication is achieved through empathy. Emotionality is essential to empathize and to connect. Take Donald Trump for example, he can be criticized for his racist and misogynous views, his temper or radicalism, but few can doubt his communication skills. The guy is a natural communicator with a superb capacity to connect with his crowd and deliver his message no matter what. Ask him his opinion about astronomy and he would probably reply he "loves" astronomy so much because it's about stars, each one representing a state in the flag of America, and he will "make America great again." How many facts or figures he refers to? Very few, but how about the times he says: "We don't win anymore. When I am President we are going to win again, believe me folks." Trump and his advisors probably found that their target audience felt defeated, excluded from progress and evidently frustrated. Some maybe lost their jobs and others can't find a good one or make enough money. Instead of explaining to them how he would solve their problems, Trump addresses their mood, empathizes and tells them he will make things better. In short, find a sentiment, validate it, and promise to solve it. Keep the messages short so the media cannot edit them, the people cannot forget them, and repeat the message over and over again to maintain the emotion. That's the recipe and what a recipe it is.
Does Hillary Clinton do the same? Nope. She reads speeches, explains a lot, argues, invokes her experience, changes the message before it sticks, doesn't display too much emotion, and rarely talks spontaneously about her personal life. Politically correct, very experienced, presents thoughtful proposals to solve issues but she doesn't fully connect. Can anyone remember one of Clinton's phrases that sticks? Nope. It is almost as if she wouldn't want to be liked, just respected. She does good with the already democratic more rational-informed voters but she could add so many more if she and her team addressed public sentiment.
It's time for politicians to learn the lesson: Elections and referendums are won by candidates who win the public sentiment. Despite being racist, misogynous, populist, radical, and having the wrong ideas, arguments or solutions, they can still win. A millionaire businessman can earn the trust and support of the working class he exploits and a politically correct former First Lady can be distrusted by women. An entire country can leave the European Union. The United Kingdom could dissolve and Trump could win. Because public sentiment is everything, with it nothing can fail, without it nothing can succeed.