The Failure of “Stronger Together”

How the Clinton Campaign Confused Their Messaging and Missed What Voters Really Wanted

This week, Trump and Clinton campaign leaders and operatives decamped for Harvard to talk about what they saw. The roster included all of the major players in 2016 from the media and the campaigns. Setting aside some of the acrimonious exchanges, perhaps the most telling exchange was when Trump’s third (and winning) campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, summed up Clinton’s failure this way:

Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters? How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about she doesn’t have an economic message?

Conway’s bottom line: Trump was the better candidate and he had the better message. “Make America Great Again” was an economic message, particularly to the industrial midwest, who had been left behind by trade deals supported by Clinton. This week’s deal with Carrier to keep about 1,000 jobs in Ohio, and the large rally that followed showed, making America great again is about the economy, stupid.

The Missing Message

Last week, I wrote about the five cards Trump played most effectively to win the election. The first point was about how Trump’s clarity and repeitition of message were much more effective than Clinton’s response. One thing I cited was the 22:1 disparity between Twitter posts including Make America Great Again or #MAGA vs. Stronger Together or #StrongerTogether, Clinton’s general election slogan. Here’s the link to that article:

But in a conversation today with my George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management PEORIA Project colleague, Dr. Michael Cornfield, we realized I left out an important point. While MAGA was the consistent slogan for Trump, Stronger Together was the second major theme for Clinton. We left out “I’m With Her” or #ImWithHer, her pre-general election theme. So let’s look at all three.

2016 Volume of Tweets including Make America Great Again or #MAGA | Crimson Hexagon
2016 Volume of Tweets including Stronger Together or #StrongerTogether | Crimson Hexagon
2016 Volume of Tweets including I’m With Her or #ImWithHer | Crimson Hexagon

If we add both of her slogans and compare them with Trump’s he still wins but it is a whole lot closer. The 22:1 ratio drops almost ten-fold to 2.2 to 1.

Message Muddle

In retrospect, it looks like I’m With Her was the better message. On Election Day, I’m With Her was in 10 times as many posts as Stronger Together — months after they had switched messages. Even though the Clinton campaign walked away from I’m With Her, supporters held on to it all the way through, echoing the theme more often and in greater volume.

Why? It was more clearer and more powerful. The historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy lent itself to reinforcing it affirmatively. Saying I’m With Her is active while Stronger Together isn’t even a sentence. While I can understand that moving on from a contentious primary against a divisive opponent would lend itself to Stronger Together, it’s clunky and almost a bit defensive.

I’m With Her is more sharable and easier to echo. Clinton says something you agree with or represents something you want? Your response is not that we’re stronger together, it’s I’m With Her. In her roundly praised convention speech, First Lady Michelle Obama’s most powerful line was not that the nation would be stronger together under Clinton’s leadership. It was this:

Then the Clinton team dumped it. Instead, they went all in on Stronger Together as the title of their campaign book (1 1/2 stars on Amazon), bumper stickers, yard signs, podiums, backdrops, bus, and airplane. Despite all of that unified messaging, what was most memorable at the end of the campaign? Again, it was I’m With Her. Their best message was muddled behind a general election slogan that meant less her supporters.

Even if Clinton had stayed with I’m With Her she still would have missed the point. As Conway noted, Clinton did not have an economic message that appealed to voters in the states that ended up deciding the election. I’m With Her was not an economic message, either. It was, at best, a way to rally for Clinton and a subtle gender play. But more than half of white women voters didn’t buy it. What many of them really wanted was to get the country back on track, not just an option to vote for one of their own.

There are external reasons Clinton can point to that contributed to her losing the election. But providing the central message of the campaign, clearly communicating why choosing Hillary Clinton as the 45th President of the United States would improve the lives of its citizens?

That’s on her.


If you enjoyed this article, click the💚 below so other people will see this here on Medium. Follow me on Twitter @michaelcohen. You can follow our research on this website or on Twitter @PEORIAProject, which is funded by a generous grant from Mark R. Shenkman. To learn more about the Graduate School of Political Management visit our website or follow us on Twitter @GSPMgwu.

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