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22 March 2018 23:42 (South Africa)
Opinionista Oscar van Heerden

‘Bradley Effect’ strikes again: A Trump Presidency and some home truths

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

A few months ago I indicated to some of my friends that I think the American people in general and the pollsters in particular should take heed of the “Bradley Effect” as it pertains to this 2016 Presidential election. At the time not many of them knew what this effect was and hence some of them took the time to research or Google it.

In short, in 1982, African-American Mayor Tom Bradley took a decision to contest for the position of Governor of California. His opponent, George Deukmejian, a white American of Armenian decent, also decided to run for the position. This was bound to be an exciting contest and polling agencies kicked into high gear to ascertain from the Californian citizens their preferred choice.

Needless to say, the race took on racial overtures and as such pollsters were very thorough in their polling methodology. As the race heated up, week after week, pollsters were predicting that Bradley would win. In fact, just days before, it was a forgone conclusion that Bradley was firmly in the driving seat.

To add insult to injury, on the voting day, some went as far as calling it in favour of Bradley, declaring him the winner. But as the results trickled in it became apparent for all to see, including the pollsters, that in fact Deukmejian was the outright winner. Analysts concluded that most people polled had lied to the pollsters. Afraid and embarrassed to be accused of being racist, they indicated to the pollsters that they supported Bradley. In the privacy of the voting booth their true colours were revealed and their real support was declared for the white candidate.

This famously became known as the “Bradley Effect”. And dare I say, continues to be studied in Sociology, Psychology and Political Studies to this day. But apparently, the Americans have not learnt anything from it, as is now evident with the outcome of the 2016 presidential race.

Let’s call it for what it is folks – most Americans lied to the various pollsters in almost every state or at the very least remained mum on all issues relating to the elections. They got it wrong with Brexit in the UK and now, with all their sophistication and technologies, they got it wrong in the USA. But that’s a discussion for another time perhaps.

So what does a Trump presidency hold in store for us all? No secrets here and certainly none stored on an unsecured server in Trump’s living room either. He has made it very clear that he will be tough on illegal immigration and so we can expect him to follow through with this. It will probably take the form of tougher immigration laws and much more severe checks and balances to verify foreign people’s status, and off course the building of a rhetorical wall along the Mexican border. I say rhetorical because I simply don’t think Trump meant a physical wall, what I do think he is saying is impenetrable border access, whatever form this will take. I might be wrong but let’s see.

On the issues affecting minorities, the Hispanics and African-American citizens: though extremely racist at times, Trump was merely also appealing to all Americans about the plight of the rest of America. Though pain is being experienced by minorities, especially during this race, so too has pain been felt for many years by hard working-class and, yes, white Americans.

For far too long this pain has simply been ignored. Only to be awakened by the election of Barack Obama. Who I must say at this point went all out for Hillary Clinton. We witnessed unprecedented support from the sitting president for a candidate, even if she was from his party. The Obamas – and yes I include Michelle here – because of their popularity in parts of the country, thought they could decide who the next president would be. It simply backfired. Obama spent so much time in North Carolina one would have thought he would have sewn up that support base, in particular the majority black vote. But it was not to be. He did not deliver to the African-American voters during his tenure and so why would they now put their fate in the hands of Hillary Clinton, only to get more of the same?

And so, Trump, putting the pain of white working-class people out there and recognising it, resonated with the electorate. We also all know that if you want to appeal to the religious Bible-belt types then you simply must be clear on abortion and homosexuality. I don’t agree with Trump and his ridiculous utterances in this regard but it did bring him those crucial votes. Everyone knows there’s so much to do to run the world; and he can be forgiven for not getting to undo laws supporting abortion and homosexuality in his first term. I’m sure he will tell the bible-bashers he will get to these issues in his next term of office. And you know what, they will be gullible enough to believe him.

On foreign policy, Trump raises a number of interesting approaches. Let’s start with the obvious one, the bogey man, Putin. According to the establishment, Putin is Trump’s new best friend. Donald said, “ I don’t know Putin” during one of the presidential debates. And indeed he does not. The bogey man tactic by the Clinton campaign simply did not work for them, as it appears they have not realised that the Cold War is over. The hacking of the National Convention system by the Russians is to be blamed on the incompetence of the many Intelligence agencies in the USA, as it is a reflection of Russian interest and competence. How could they have allowed it, were they asleep at the wheel?

In his campaign Trump said repeatedly that the reality is that al-Qaeda and now ISIS are a direct result of American foreign policy in the Middle East region. He is correct. That they were started under a Republican administration was usefully not mentioned. He made it clear that a serious relook is needed as to the approach and objectives of the USA. He stated – rightly or wrongly – that he thought Assad and Putin were doing a better job at fighting ISIS both in Aleppo and elsewhere than the current Democratic lead US government. Let’s not forget that Clinton has indicated that it’s okay to support rebel forces in Syria who are fighting towards overthrowing the Assad government. So that’s okay, but Assad fighting to remain in power with the help of Russia and Iran are termed “war crimes”.

The people of Syria and others in the region are at the receiving end of the carnage and violence. The pertinent question is: when will it all stop? Hence Trump has taken aim at Nato and its role in global security matters. It’s a huge expense for the American taxpayer and he wants to know how they can reconfigure it in order to extract maximum benefit from it? The military industrial complex in the US are surely going to benefit hugely from a Trump presidency, don’t get me wrong. But this benefit will be based on a different set of rules that they and the traditional allies are used too. We can expect fewer boots on the ground anywhere in the world, many more drones and certainly better tactical and strategic nuclear warheads. I think that will be Trump’s emphasis, since he has never served in the armed forces.

As far as the US economy is concerned, much will have to change, according to Trump. Trade agreements will have to be renegotiated. This is easier said than done of course, but he will start the process. If anything, Trump will have to deliver on this front. His position (or at least his articulated populist narrative of his position) will be less emphasis on ‘Big Business’ and their needs and more on the best interests of the ‘average American’. iPhones, cars, just manufacturing in general will come back (or at least talks of them coming back) into the numerous towns and counties in order to create more jobs.

Whether he will succeed on this redirection in this globalised world, where cheap labour resides in the Far East, I’m not sure. However, to me this is the single biggest reason why Americans came out in their numbers to vote for change. “Change” is what Trump promised them. This will therefore the biggest consideration over the next four years for the Trump Presidency, by far.

The Bradley Effect has now come and gone, everyone is licking their wounds. The Establishment, Hollywood, media outlets and indeed some Republicans will begin with the five stages of grief. Hopefully they have completed the first stage: denial. They held out for as long as they could during the last few hours of the election results and finally had to accept the outcome, with Clinton conceding. I do hope, like her vote, it was an equally humbling experience for her.

I’m sure we are now entering the second stage of grief: anger. Anger, but hopefully also an acknowledgement that indeed the USA is a deeply divided society.

The third stage: bargaining, will have to begin almost immediately. The political elite class, big business and indeed all Americans working on the interpersonal, will have to begin bargaining. They will have to start accommodating each other and take stock of the deeply divisive issues that this election brought to the fore.

In so doing, I’m sure the fourth stage will happen: depression. This could take a number of years but if all Americans want to make America great again, this stage will have to be short-lived and everyone will have to get working on repairing America again.

Only if this happens, and only if Trump realises that the presidency is bigger than any one man, will Americans experience the last stage of grief: acceptance.

We get the governments that we deserve. It was Abraham Lincoln who said, if you want to test a person’s character, give him power. Well this is it: Trump has the power. Let us see how it will inevitably shape his character. And maybe, just maybe, Trump himself will remember when sitting in that auspices oval office that,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. DM

Dr Oscar van Heerden is an International Relations Scholar. He writes in his personal capacity.

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

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